Masvidal and Askren were involved in a memorable feud in 2019 that culminated in Masvidal delivering a record-breaking, five-second, flying knee knockout of Askren at UFC 239. The highlight vaulted Masvidal into another level of stardom, while Askren would compete one more time in the UFC before retiring from MMA later that year.
The bad blood between them has never completely subsided and Masvidal went as far as to align himself with Paul as he prepared to box Askren at a Triller Fight Night event that takes place Saturday in Atlanta. Paul shared a video of himself training with the “BMF” champion in January and then Masvidal made a cameo appearance at a March 27 press conference for the event, calling in to heckle his former foe.
In an interview with Sportsnet.ca, Masvidal elaborated on why he’s backing a YouTube star over his fellow MMA fighter. According to Masvidal, Askren’s lack of commitment to diversifying his game is an affront to mixed martial arts.
“I never felt that Ben Askren was fully involved in (MMA),” Masvidal said (transcription via BJPenn.com). “Joe (Rogan) said himself, ‘He’s so good at wrestling that he doesn’t need anything else. It’s like you’re fighting two guys at once. It’s like you’re grappling two guys at once.’ Something like that. And Ben carried that his whole career like, ‘I don’t care if he’s a striker, I don’t need to strike. Yeah, I know my striking is limited so I can just wrestle this guy and dry hump him for three rounds.’ I’m not going to get behind that guy all of a sudden now.”
“He’s not a striker,” Masvidal continued. “He’s never been, he wasn’t born with it, and he didn’t pursue it either. You don’t have to be born with it, but you could have pursued it and learned techniques. This guy can’t even hold his hands up properly, his core, the way he stands, everything about him tells me, yeah, his interviews were right. He wasn’t trying to troll and clown. He really disrespected striking the whole way through. Do you think I really want to get behind a guy like this? You don’t have to take my word for this. Whoever’s listening to this can listen to any interviews with him three or four years ago. That’s like me going into MMA and saying, ‘F*ck this wrestling because I don’t need to wrestle, I can just knock these guys out.’ And maybe I do knock some of these guys out. But then if I get outwrestled what do I say?”
Askren was a two-time NCAA Division-I champion in wrestling and he competed in freestyle at the 2008 Olympics. Over the course of his nearly 10-year MMA career, he exclusively used his wrestling to drag opponents to the mat and either win on points or overwhelm them for a finish. He holds notable victories over Robbie Lawler, Shinya Aoki, Andrey Koreshkov, and Douglas Lima.
Due to Askren’s reliance on one combat sports discipline, Masvidal has no respect for him as Askren prepares to make his pro boxing debut at age 36.
“That’s what I feel like with Ben,” Masvidal said. “I can’t get behind him. You were never a striker. The only reason you got granted this was because I made you famous in five seconds or less, so now people want to see you get hurt again, and Jake Paul picked the perfect opponent for me to do it. This guy can’t generate any power with his hands.
“Is Ben tough? Yeah, he’s tough as hell. He’ll take a beating, he’ll run four miles and then do a triathlon. He’s tough, he’s got the mental toughness. But the skill set that is required for boxing, the time, the preparation, all this stuff? No, and he’s always disrespected it. I don’t feel that he’s a representation of MMA. He’s his own f*cking entity and he doesn’t believe in MMA. He thinks that he can just wrestle anybody. Now you can’t wrestle. Now you can only box. I guess you need the money that bad.”