University of Missouri

Former Missouri Tigers wrestler Ben Askren eyes end of his unbeaten MMA career

Mizzou product Ben Askren fought on the KC Live! stage in 2010. Today, he’s mulling retirement from mixed-martial arts at age 32.
Mizzou product Ben Askren fought on the KC Live! stage in 2010. Today, he’s mulling retirement from mixed-martial arts at age 32. skeyser@kcstar.com

There’s a particular perfection in Ben Askren’s nickname, “Funky.”

From his “T-Row and Funky Show” podcast to the parody video of Adele’s “Hello” he created last year, the moniker just works.

A Missouri Hall of Fame wrestler and ONE Fighting Championships welterweight champion, Askren earned the nickname because of his unorthodox scrambling fighting style, which he said he helped “pioneer.”

But all pioneers eventually call it quits, and the Hartland, Wisc., native is contemplating retirement at age 32.

“I always said I’d be done by 30 (and) I’m 32,” Askren said in an interview at the Hearnes Center ahead of last Friday’s Missouri wrestling dual against top-ranked Oklahoma State. “I always read a lot of athletic books from all genres (as a kid), and no one ever quits on time. I never want to be that guy who everyone is telling them, ‘Stop, you’re done, you’re so much worse than you used to be.’”

When asked about the UFC still being a possibility at the conclusion of his ONE contract, Askren said: “For me? No. I’m done (with that). No. I’m going to be retired not too far off in the near future.”

Until then, Askren will continue to do what he’s done since his introduction to mixed martial arts in 2008: Fight. He’s scheduled to climb back into the octagon on April 21 in the Philippines.

Ironically enough, eight years after his first fight, Askren said that “at first” he didn’t have much interest in mixed martial arts.

After the conclusion of his senior season at MU, in which he went 45-0 and won an NCAA championship (his second in as many years), the former two-time Dan Hodge Trophy winner became the program’s first wrestler to qualify for the Olympics.

In Beijing, Askren helped expand the Missouri tradition winning his first match against Hungarian István Veréb. He then lost the second match to Cuba’s Ivan Fundora.

After that came the weighing of multiple options.

“I saw, ‘Hey, I’ve got four years until the next one of these things (Olympics), and It’s not like I can go back and do it the next year,’” Askren said. “I said, ‘Well, I can go try MMA.’ … I started doing it, really enjoyed it, started making real money, and that was it.”

Askren hasn’t lost since.

He made his debut on February 7, 2009. In 2010, Askren signed on with Bellator Fighting Championships. Three years and 11 wins later, in November 2013, Askren was granted a waiver of his one-year exclusive negotiating period with Bellator.

That’s when UFC jumped into the picture.

Talks stalled and comments between Askren and UFC president Dana White became headlines. The pivot point came when Askren had a meeting at the UFC’s office with several top executives, per a piece written by the Las Vegas Review-Journal in 2014.

Askren left that meeting believing he would be offered a contract to fight in the UFC, but that night he instead received a call informing him the UFC wasn’t interested.

To this day, Askren and White remain at odds.

“(Dana White) is a really, really, really terrible person. … He’s a really bad person,” Askren said. “He’s got some mommy or daddy issues — something deep inside of him that he’s got to deal with.”

With his career winding down, Askren is putting more focus into things like his podcast and the Askren Wrestling Academy, which he opened in 2011.

Does he miss putting on the black and gold singlet of Mizzou?

“Yes, I miss it and I loved when I was here, but I also do realize my time’s past,” Askren said. “Going back to the athlete thing (where) they all hang on too long, part of it is because they can’t let go, right?”

Missouri coach Brian Smith said he appreciated Askren’s return to Columbia.

“When I look over to the left of our mat when I’m coaching and I see Ben Askren, (Tyler, Nathan and Chris) McCormick, (Drake) Houdashelt, it’s kind of intimidating to some of our younger guys,” Smith said. “For me, if I was an athlete, I’d want to keep this tradition going. I want to be like that.”

Askren and his brother Max — another Missouri wrestling Hall of Famer — want to nurture the wrestling tradition they helped spark in Wisconsin. Along with camps run by their academy, the pair have two facilities in Wisconsin and another on the way.

“I’m always planning (what to do next),” Askren said. “I have little things (that I want to do) here and there, but I guess the big piece to the picture is running Askren Wrestling Academy and trying to grow it as big as we can grow it.”

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