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Interview: Ben Askren Talks Bellator Signing and His Refusal to Give Up On Dreams of Wrestling Greatness

(Askren’s most recent fight vs. Matt Delanoit, 8/28/09. Props: Pure Fight.)

Ben Askren was a four-time All-American wrestler at the University of Missouri and an Olympic hopeful at the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing. He came home without a medal, his dreams temporarily dashed, and has since turned his focus toward MMA, racking up a 3-0 record in smaller promotions. But now the former wrestling standout has signed on to compete in Bellator’s welterweight tournament in the spring of 2010, though that doesn’t mean he’s forgetting all about his goals in the world of wrestling. Far from it, in fact. He seems to think he can someday be the best in the world at both MMA and wrestling, and nobody can talk him out of it. You’re one of the more well known wrestlers. You were a two-time national champ at Missouri and you got a lot of press heading into the Olympics. What made you decide to sign with Bellator?

It’s the best offer I had right now. They made me a good offer and they said they’d let me keep wrestling on the side, so that played a big part in my decision.

How important is it to you to keep wrestling?

Well, I’m trying to make the World Team in 2010.

2010 is also when you’re supposed to fight in Bellator’s welterweight tournament. Are you worried that wrestling might interfere with that?

No. It won’t interfere. It just won’t. I won’t let it.

How big a part did their willingness to let you keep wrestling play in your decision to sign with them? Did you turn down other offers on that basis?

No, they were the best offer, period. But if they wouldn’t have agreed to let me wrestle I probably would have said, you know, next. To me it’s ridiculous that I could do sparring and hard training and it’s not a problem, but I’ve wrestled for nineteen years of my life and never once had a serious injury. A day of sparring at the gym is probably more dangerous for me than wrestling. It’s not like I’m going to get hurt. I know what I’m doing.

Why is continuing to wrestle so important to you?

I just love wrestling. It’s something I’ve done my whole life and I’m not ready to quit yet. I don’t think I’m done until I win a world title. I want to reach my full potential and to do that I think I need to win a world championship. Until I win a world or Olympic championship I think I’ll probably still be wrestling.

Then how serious is your commitment to MMA at this point?

I want to be the best in the world at MMA too. I love wrestling and jiu-jitsu. MMA, it’s not on the same level as wrestling for me, but I like it a lot. But wrestling and jiu-jitsu, I have a real passion for those two.

If you want to be the best in MMA, does that mean you eventually see yourself in the UFC?

No, I’m happy with what I signed with Bellator. I’ll be with them until the contract runs out and then we’ll see what comes next. I didn’t say I wanted to be the best in the world tomorrow. I said I wanted to be the best in the world eventually. If that means being in the UFC, I’ll be in the UFC. If it’s somewhere else, I’ll go somewhere else. Obviously I’m not the best right now, so we’ll have to see in the future.

What’s been the hardest part of your transition from wrestling to MMA?

Striking is definitely the most difficult for me. Jiu-jitsu, I had a great coach right away and it’s just so similar to wrestling that it was easy for me to learn. Striking is so different that it takes me a lot longer to pick up. The last little bit I think I’ve been picking it up well. I didn’t really have a striking coach when I was in Columbia, Missouri, but now that I’m in Arizona I do. I think I’m getting a lot better.

You’ve had three fights so far. How did they compare with what you expected them to be like?

I didn’t really know what to expect, but I enjoy it a lot. It’s fun to get in the cage. The first time I fought I kind of forgot that the guy could punch me. I just walked up to him with my hands down and I got hit in the face twice. But I enjoy it. I don’t mind getting hit. I like a good scrap.

How do you forget that someone can punch you in the face?

You know, I don’t really know. I just walked right up to him, my hands were down, and wham, he hit me in the face a couple of times. Then I remembered. After that I took him down and finished the fight pretty quickly.

That’s all the questions I have. Anything else to add?

Just that I’m excited to go out and compete for Bellator and I think I’m going to do well with them. Everyone keep an eye out for me.


Cagepotato Comments

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Da Spied Her- December 16, 2009 at 8:27 am
Jiu-Jitsu guys can beat wrestlers by just pretending to try and pin them, and then taking the wrestler's back when he gives it to him. :-)

But seriously, a really good wrestler like Ben that learns how to do submissions really well is quite dangerous. Wrestlers that don't learn submissions and try to rely on ground and pound are just boring, though.
Just A Wrestler- December 15, 2009 at 2:44 pm
CP guys.. can u make sure he sees that ^ ? Im a huge fan of his. I was so pissed when he lost in the Olympics. I almost cried.
Just A Wrestler- December 15, 2009 at 2:35 pm
I LOVE BEN ASKREN!!!!!! BEN! WADE SCHALLES IS MY COACH, YOU GOTTA COME TO MARYLAND AND TRAIN WITH ME!!!!! Another nasty funky wrestler is Matt Cathell from Kent state. He's ranked and just a wacky wrestler. And i completely agree with ben. Theres nothing like wrestling. Jiu jitsu is cool but wrestling is the best. To do. Jiu jitsu guys can kill wrestlers any day, dont get me wrong. Just look at Gracie. Need i say more?

ghostboner- December 15, 2009 at 12:55 pm
How come no coverage on the WEC or Strikeforce events coming up Sat? We got Don Cerrone and Cung Le fighting the same day and no one cares but me??? They're not even PPV! Come on!
Organ Donor- December 15, 2009 at 12:32 pm
Endocat- December 15, 2009 at 12:28 pm
@ el Famous Burrito

well shit happens when you party naked
ProfessorMMA- December 15, 2009 at 12:21 pm
he specifically said his goal right now is to win a world title in wrestling, and that he'd like to eventually be the best in MMA. seems to be nothing wrong with his priorities IMO
DaltonSwayze- December 15, 2009 at 11:53 am
What does everyone have against wrestlers? Platypus, you seem butthurt that he likes wrestling better than MMA. Overeem seems to like kickboxing more than MMA, too.

If the guy wants to focus on wrestling and do MMA on the side, what do you care? He doesn't claim to be the best, and to be honest, all but the tippity top of every division isn't Olympic-caliber anyway
omunto- December 15, 2009 at 11:26 am
For an olympic caliber wrestler that was one gross ass double leg attempt at 00:12.
Disco-Platypus- December 15, 2009 at 11:24 am
Seems somewhat arrogant, though ala Matt Hughes, Brock Lesnar, Chael Sonnen, etc., etc., I think we have learned that wrestlers have a tendency to be arrogant. From the interview: "I want to be the best in the world at MMA too. I love wrestling and jiu-jitsu. MMA, it’s not on the same level as wrestling for me, but I like it a lot." Well, how flattering: you "like it a lot." Just a hunch, here, but Michael Jordan and Wayne Gretzky probably "liked" their sports more than "a lot" - you know, they probably had "passion" for it in order to be the best, and I am sure Gretzky would avoid rating hockey as his third favorite sport. What an ass.
El Famous Burrito- December 15, 2009 at 11:04 am
I forgot that I couldn't punch people in the face, once.

Now I'm banned from Chuck E. Cheese for life.
LockDown- December 15, 2009 at 10:23 am
Yeah, he is ok. But his wrestling was steamrolled by jiu-jitsu in ADCC.