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Exclusive: Ignoring Criticism From ‘Fickle’ Fans, Ben Askren Seeks to Become the Best in the World

(Photo via MMAWeekly)

By Elias Cepeda

American wrestler Ben Askren’s entry into MMA after the 2008 Summer Olympic Games seemed so full of promise and excitement. Here was one of the world’s best wrestlers deciding, in his athletic prime, to give up wrestling and devote himself to learning the MMA game.

Furthermore, Askren was known as having one of the most exciting styles in the NCAA during his college career. Add to this the fact that Askren seemed to take to Brazilian Jiu Jitsu very quickly — routinely entering Jiu Jitsu tournaments to stay sharp — and it seemed like he was destined for success.

Four years into his MMA career, Askren has undoubtedly achieved one type of success while another has thus far eluded him. All Askren does is win — he’s 10-0 with victories over some of the best veterans and prospects in the welterweight division. But he’s also become a polarizing and unpopular figure, criticized by pundits and fans as “boring.”

Askren has done his job as a highly touted blue-chipper, winning and winning some more, even earning the Bellator welterweight championship in the process. But his efforts have mostly been met with criticism in the public.

The hate hasn’t affected him, though. “No, not really,” Askren insists during a conversation with CagePotato. “Fans are fickle. I knew that coming in. I’ve never been worried about fan reaction.”

Askren simply won’t apologize for his fights against the likes of Nick Thompson, Douglas Lima, Jay Hieron, and Dan Hornbuckle, even if some of those wins have been less than titillating. But “Funky” Ben is far from aloof.

The national champion and Olympic wrestler works hard to improve each day and in each fight. At this point, though, Askren’s wrestling is still by far the strongest part of his MMA arsenal, so he’d be a fool not to rely on it in fights, he explains.

“I feel that I’ve improved in every fight but I’m going to stick my base and that’s wrestling,” Askren says.

His own standards for himself are higher than any that fans can set, so he doesn’t sweat the criticism. Also, Askren points out that most fans are simply not knowledgeable enough for him to care about their feelings about his style.

Asked what fans may not understand about fighting, Askren answers simply, “I don’t think that there are a lot of things that fans do get about fighting. For one, most of them have never been punched in the face. Most also have zero grasp of the grappling game – either wrestling or submissions. They are just not interested in it.”

In a sports world where athletes are expected to coddle their fans, Askren’s bluntness is surprising. But it would be hard to argue with his assertion. You’ll notice that Askren didn’t call fans names, he is simply saying that those who cannot appreciate what he and other successful fighters do, don’t because they lack adequate understanding of the sport itself and how hard it is to do at the highest levels.

And if you think that he’s the only fighter who realizes this about the fans that watch them, you’re dead wrong. Askren is just outspoken enough to say what many feel. The fighter doesn’t seem to understand what we mean when we ask him why he’s so outspoken. Why does he speak up in defense of himself when it means holding up a mirror to fans’ faces?

“That’s just the way I am,” he says. “I’ve always been that way.”

Fans claim they want access to and earnestness from professional athletes. If that’s true, then they should consider appreciating Askren’s total lack of pretense and calculation in the way he speaks.

If the Bellator champ doesn’t care what others’ expectations of him are, he certainly still has high goals for himself. “I got into [MMA] to see if I could become the best in the world by the time I was thirty,” he says.

“I don’t know if its going to happen so soon but that’s still the goal.”

Askren says he has no interest in sticking around after he achieves that goal. “Once I get that, I’ll quit,” he says.

“Fighting, and competing generally, is a selfish thing…I want to coach when I’m done.”

Ben Askren is slated to defend his Bellator welterweight title against Karl Amoussou sometime this fall. You can tell him how you feel @BenAskren.

Cagepotato Comments

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Gobbleston- September 20, 2012 at 9:53 am
@Houstons db : Have you ever witnessed any facet of Dana White's personality? He doesn't have to do shit, let alone let that snooze-fest into the UFC. I'm pretty certain he's even mentioned a distain for him before, and I'm certain he doesn't want to load up another Jon Fitch into the UFC.
Dewdness- September 19, 2012 at 7:38 pm
BEST IN THE WORLD? Yeah right. Even if he were to continue his streak in Bellator, Askren would be too chicken shit to step into the Octagon.
Wanna be the best? Then fight the best.
I bet you the minute Ben steps into the cage with *Real* competition, he'd get owned in the 1st, then laughed at for ever being a 'champion', like Jake Shieldzzz. Only Jake has more finishes.
Gsp would murk Ben, ala Fitch, only Ben would break cuz Gsp wouldnt let Ben win lol
RwilsonR- September 19, 2012 at 5:20 pm
"...with victories over some of the best veterans..." - really Elias? Which top 10 fighter has he beat? Actually, which top 20 fighter? Top 30 even?
Mr_Misanthropy- September 19, 2012 at 2:59 pm
Ben "Wet Blanket" Askren
Mr_Misanthropy- September 19, 2012 at 2:58 pm
Bellator's the B-team Benny boy.
gpop727- September 19, 2012 at 2:58 pm
Does anyone else think he looks like the confession bear?
Houstons db- September 19, 2012 at 12:54 pm
Real talk, you can't deny a win. Neither can Dana. If Ben keeps winning, puts a nice streak together, Dana will have to bring him in. If anything, the UFC will throw some beast at him to bust his chops. Unlike Lombard, Askren don't F around. He'll lay and pray his way to victory and score some fans along the way, watch. No one hates on a boa for squeezing the life out of their prey or an alligator for death rolling their opponents. Not everyone can be a kangaroo.
Dizzylittlelord- September 19, 2012 at 2:40 pm
true no-one hates the boa for that but the point is at least the boa is going for a sub, if you were called to watch a boa fight and then saw him slither over something for 15 minutes and both things come out fine then youd ask what the fuck was that. a fight is a fight, you have to at least try and win not hold him down till someone stops you
Kim Couture is a cunt- September 19, 2012 at 12:46 pm
Pretty hard for this ugly douche bag to be ever considered the best in the world when he has never fought a top ten WW in his life. Im not "fickle" either, its the truth. Fuck Ben Askren.
Null Kuhl- September 19, 2012 at 11:52 am
Looks like I'm the only one who managed to stay awake while reading an article about Ben Ambien. Must be all that crank I snorted.
Null Kuhl- September 19, 2012 at 11:37 am
Well, if he wants to be the "best in the world", he'd better start attempting to impress Dana White. He'll never attain that goal in Bellator. Also, his insistence that "fans are simply not knowledgeable enough for him to care about their feelings" is patently ridiculous. Obviously, he has serious wrestling/grappling skills. You'd have to be brain dead to not recognize that fact. However, HE clearly doesn't have much confidence in his skills. By never attempting to finish a fight (and stating in some interviews that he doesn't even want to do so), he is betraying his self-doubt. To attempt to finish a fight involves a certain amount of risk, which he clearly isn't willing to take. On the other hand, you have a fighter like Ronda Rousey who is so supremely confident in her skills that she is willing to give up a bad position in order to get the finish. Her confidence in her abilities allows her to do so. His lack of confidence keeps him from actually performing to the best of his abilities. Oh well. I'm sure he'd just say I'm a moron incapable of understanding the finer points of the art.