Numbers That Defined The Martial Arts Legacy of Ben “Funky” Askren
American combat legend Ben “Funky” Askren needed less than four years to conquer ONE Championship and become the biggest star in the constantly-growing world of martial arts.
Known by the moniker “Funky” due to his sophisticated afro hairstyle, Askren made an impact in his first two assignments in ONE Championship, submitting Bakhtiyar Abbasov with an arm-triangle choke in his May 2014 promotional debut before thwarting Nobutatsu Suzuki in the first round to claim the organization’s coveted welterweight crown three months later.
Askren then successfully defended his world title on four different occasions, keeping his immaculate record intact and the ONE Welterweight World Championship belt around his waist
As he has morphed into a fully-formed global martial arts superstar, Askren has compiled his share of intriguing statistical data.
For seven years, a prestigious gold-plated strap has been closely associated with Askren as he has never lost a world title contest since outpointing Lyman Good for the Bellator welterweight championship belt in October 2010.
Askren made history when he unified Bellator’s 170-pound’s top prize with the ONE Welterweight World Championship by pulling off a first-round demolition of Suzuki in August 2014.
“I’ve held two belts. I’ve never lost them, and I’ve held them for a combined six years, which is a very, very long championship reign by anyone’s account,” he said,
Askren made the transition to mixed martial arts and has flawlessly translated his impeccable grappling skills into his growing skillset.
The 33-year-old American has been perfect in competition, amassing an immaculate professional record of 18-0 with 1 no contest en route to becoming the ONE Welterweight World Champion.
“18 is the number of times I’ve stepped in the cage, and I’ve never taken a loss. I think I am one of the best in the world, and I think it also says a lot about the consistency I bring. I bring a great performance every single time I step in the cage,” Askren explained.
“I said from day one that I am the best in the world at what I do, and this is what I am going to do every single time. I have been saying that since I started in 2009,” he added.
In his eight-year run as a highly-touted martial artist inside the cage, Askren owns six knockout victories and five submission triumphs.
Askren brought the curtain down on a stellar martial arts career with a quick technical knockout victory over his Evolve MMA teammate Shinya “Tobikan Judan” Aoki in the main event of ONE: IMMORTAL PURSUIT last Friday, 24 November.
Askren is highly regarded for his outstanding wrestling background that earned him two NCAA Division I national championship trophies and the privilege to represent the United States at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
While many children were motivated to first pick up a basketball because of Michael Jordan or kick a soccer ball because of David Beckham, Askren was a little different.
Growing up in the Midwestern United States, a region traditionally known as a hotbed for amateur wrestling, Askren was motivated by the spirit of competition and wanted to participate in a sport where he could be the master of his own fate.
During his illustrious college wrestling stint, Askren won 87 matches in a row, which made him one of the best grapplers in the collegiate ranks.
“In the culture of wrestling, you don’t ever find a successful wrestler being lazy. You will never find a successful wrestler just super talented because you have to back that talent up with work ethic and being smart,” he shared.
“Our wrestling culture has the mentality that if you’ve been taken down, you better get two or three takedowns back. To be a wrestler, you need to have the mind of a chess player, the grace of a ballerina, the balance of gymnast, the explosiveness of an Olympic weightlifter, and the agility of a soccer player. Wrestling is a very multi-faceted sport,“ Askren justified.
Askren finished his collegiate wrestling career with a record of 153–8, with 91 of those victories coming by way of fall. Those 91 pins put him at third on the all-time NCAA Division I pins list.
Even though there are many combat practices in mixed martial arts, Askren stands firm on the notion that wrestling is the most vital discipline in the sport.
Wrestling has been often regarded as the best foundation in the sport as numerous wrestlers transitioned easily into the sport, including Randy Couture, Dan Henderson, Daniel Cormier and Frankie Edgar.
Throughout the course of the sport’s history, wrestlers have shared the cage with other practitioners on numerous occasions.
In the current state of the sport, wrestling has become a necessary requirement for combatants to extensively learn.
“If you’re going to ask a lot of the mixed martial artists, they’re going to say that wrestling is the number one martial art to learn,” Askren stated. “It’s the number one discipline to learn because you can dictate whether you can have it on the ground or whether you can keep it standing.”
Askren is universally recognized as one of the best welterweights today and one of the best professional martial artists in the world pound-for-pound.
The undefeated ONE Welterweight World Champion has been all over the globe, competing in countries such as the United States, Singapore, United Arab Emirates, China and the Philippines.
“I really enjoy travelling. My trips to Asia have been a pleasure for me. I always enjoy seeing new cultures and learning new things,” Askren stressed.
Since being part of the ONE Championship roster, Askren has traveled more than 108,000 kilometers for the promotion’s blockbuster events.
“When you talk about martial arts, Asia is the home of martial arts. It has been the home of martial arts for the last 5,000 years. There are homegrown martial arts in every single country in Asia: Japan has Karate, Aikido and Judo. Meanwhile, Korea has Taekwondo. On the other hand, Thailand has Muay Thai. China has Kung Fu, while Russia has Sambo. It’s really very rich in history, but nobody has ever attempted to unify the continent this way. ONE Championship made it happen to celebrate the beauty of martial arts. Being part of the organization’s growth is such an honor,” he asserted.
Askren took his flawless professional record to 18-0, 1 NC with the fastest finish of his career, hammering Aoki with ground strikes to force the TKO stoppage just 57 seconds into the opening stanza.
What many expected to be a grappling chess match between the two ended abruptly, after Askren punished Aoki for an outrageous early submission attempt in the initial seconds of the contest.
It was from a dominant top position that Askren clinically finished the bout, posturing up and unloading a barrage of ground and pound that Aoki was powerless to stop.
Seeing that Aoki was overwhelmed by Askren’s ground strikes, referee Olivier Coste stepped in to call a stop to the contest, handing the American his 18th career win, his fourth successful ONE Championship title defense, and the fastest finish of his eight-year professional martial arts career.
After eight years being undefeated and dominating the sport’s welterweight landscape, the martial arts career of Askren reached a scintillating conclusion last Friday, 24 November when he defeated Aoki in the headliner of ONE: IMMORTAL PURSUIT.
While the announcement of hanging up the gloves for good at the age of 33 came as a surprise to many, it is a decision that Askren has thought about for years, citing his desire to leave the cage as he exits his physical prime, as well as to spend more time with his family and focus on coaching the next generation of wrestlers at his own wrestling school.
“I had been planning this out for a while. I have been pretty open about it. I had this expiration date set on myself, so I said to ONE Championship at the end of 2015 that I have two years left, and then I am done. I am going to walk away,” he bared.
“I’m not the same guy that I was at 28 physically. Now, technically I’ve gotten better because I I have been mastering it every single day. But physically, I have definitely gotten worse. I’ve passed my peak. And so, when I re-signed my contract with ONE Championship two years ago, I told them straight up, ‘I’m done. At the end of 2017, I’m done.’ Initially, like I said, I thought it was going to be 30. [But] 33, that’s it,” Askren further detailed out.
It could not have been written any better as Askren faced what was supposed to be the stiffest challenge of his legendary career in Aoki.
But within a minute, he demolished his teammate and fellow legend. Askren slammed Aoki to the mat, delivered a few perfectly-timed punches, and then secured the finish of the Japanese counterpart.
It was undoubtedly Askren’s finest work as he earned the fastest victory of his eight-year, 19-bout professional run.
Moreover, it was a phenomenal way to cap off his career as Askren leaves the sport on the highest note possible.
“I think this is it. If I get the opportunity to prove I’m number one, then I’ll take the opportunity. I don’t need any more money. I just want to show the fans that I’m the best welterweight in the world. Other than that, I’m out,” Askren ended.