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On Saturday at UFC 239, Ben Askren suffered the first loss of his career in devastating fashion after being knocked out by Jorge Masvidal’s flying knee in a UFC-record five seconds. It was a stunning conclusion to the most anticipated fight on the card, as well as to Askren’s undefeated run that lasted 19 fights and 10 years.
Askren, the former Bellator and ONE welterweight champion, signed with the UFC last year after years of calling for his shot. Through two octagon appearances now, against Robbie Lawler and Masvidal, Askren has been mostly dominated and won his debut in controversial fashion. Which begs the question: Where does he go from here? MMA Junkie’s Steven Marrocco, Nolan King and Farah Hannoun sound off in this edition of “Triple Take.”
I’m of two minds on what should be next for Ben Askren.
Thinking of him, I wonder about the end game for the funky wrestler. At 34, is Askren content to earn another title shot? Can he develop the skills needed to compete at the top of the UFC’s welterweight division? Have we already seen his ceiling?
You could match Askren with a striker of lesser caliber than Masvidal, but nobody is a one-sided threat in the UFC. Every part of your game needs to be up to par, or you will eventually be exposed. Askren’s unusual win over Robbie Lawler obscured that fact for a little bit, but the Masvidal loss, however statistically improbable, made it painfully clear.
Askren has been an MMA fighter for 10 years, and he’s trained with some of the best strikers in the game. He’s never tried to be anything other than what he is, which is a world-class wrestler who’s adapted his skills to the cage. He brought a couple titles and a heck of a lot of press to the table, so he jumped near the front of the line in the pecking order. And quickly, his limitations were exposed.
So if Askren is too old to change, and he’s unlikely to be a world champ, why risk all the brain damage? Why walk through the wilderness of the welterweight division, gambling the next guy won’t catch you with something? Is the money really that good?
And that brings me to my next thought. It’s clear Askren is a draw. Some of that interest is attributable to genuine concern for his well being on Saturday night, when over 500,000 people name-dropped him on Google. But he has the personality to make the UFC some money in the next few years. And if he’s up for the risk – and you know he is – then the promotion is happy to utilize his verbal skills. They need all the help they can get in the star department, and Askren can be that guy.
I don’t dislike a Darren Till matchup. It capitalizes on recent heat between the two, and there’s an easy storyline with Masvidal as the common foe. I just don’t think there needs to be any rush. Askren doesn’t need a strong dance partner to sell a fight. He can sell just about anything if you give him enough time. So why not build up to that matchup? There are plenty of opponents who can give Askren octagon seasoning and build buzz for the big fights. There’s Demian Maia, if you’d like a grappler’s delight (and he’s not retired). There’s Neil Magny and Elizeu Dos Santos. There’s a rematch with Robbie Lawler. And then there are unranked opponents if you want to go the route of rebuilding Askren’s ranking – or build a new star.
In the end, though, it’s really up to Askren what he wants to do next. If history is any indication, he won’t be quitting any time soon. So it’s a matter of his personal end game and the costs he’s willing to bear along the way.
Next page – Nolan King: No getting rid of Askren, so let’s get (another) grudge match booked
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