(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.
CagePotato.com: 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.