Ben Askren understands his limitations.
It’s why he accepted his lack of athleticism as a wrestler at Missouri and helped pioneer his scrambling style, which relies on constant, reactive movement once opponents get on the ground. That helped him end his collegiate career with back-to-back NCAA individual championships and earn his nickname, “Funky.”
It’s also why he’s ready to retire from mixed martial arts after he defends his welterweight world championship in the Singapore-based ONE Championship on Nov. 24. He can feel his body declining, so he’s ready to stop competing before that shows in the octagon and on his record.
“I don’t want to suck,” Askren said.
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He has had a reputation for being blunt. Askren told the Star in February that UFC president Dana White — who declined to offer him a contract in 2014 — is a “really, really, really terrible person.”
Askren is 17-0 and 33 years old. He decided in 2015 that he would stop fighting this year.
“You don’t feel those little drops, but all of the sudden you look back and think, ‘How did I get here?’” Askren said.
Without competing in UFC, he never reached the level of his fame his former Missouri teammate, Tyron Woodley, has. But he will finish his career as a competitor with a strong legacy.
“He’s really just revolutionized the sport,” Woodley, UFC’s welterweight champion, said. “Guys were scrambling a little bit. … But he created an entire style of scrambling that we call the funk. He’s the funk master. All the wrestlers who came after him … are children to his style.”
Askren was the first MU Tigers wrestler to win an individual national title. In 2008, Askren became Mizzou’s first wrestler to qualify for the Olympics. He went 1-1 in Beijing and didn’t earn a medal. Missouri wrestling coach Brian Smith didn’t expect Askren to qualify for the 2008 team, so he was hopeful that with four years to train for the next Games, Askren could place in 2012.
But Askren, from Wisconsin, decided to pursue mixed martial arts instead. He made his debut on February 7, 2009. He won the welterweight title of the Bellator Fighting Championships before signing with ONE Championship in late 2013.
“I honestly didn’t think Ben would do well just because he isn’t a fighter,” Smith said. “The funny thing is when he was young in wrestling, he wasn’t having great success. He had to adapt. That’s where the funky style came. … Now, he adapted his style to the fight industry. He punches, but he doesn’t start punching til he gets on top of you, and you can’t punch him back. That’s why he’s lasted.”
Askren used to love training. Now he detests it. He has other ways to occupy his time.
In Wisconsin, he co-founded multiple wrestling academies. Smith said they have become a “pipeline” to Missouri. Freshman Jake Raschka, who is from Pewaukee and competes at 184 pounds, learned under Askren before coming to Columbia, and the Tigers have signed another wrestler from the Askren Wrestling Academy to this year’s recruiting class.
Smith said Askren has told him that coaching at the youth level is his “calling,” even if he could find a job coaching at the collegiate level. So Askren is ready to devote more time to it and to stop worrying about training. He also has two children, ages 4 and 2, who he will get to spend more time with, and a third child is due this December.
“I’m thinking it’s going to be glorious,” Askren said, “but I’m not really sure.”