The Ben Askren experiment is over.
Last November it was announced that a “trade” had occurred between ONE Championship and the UFC. In exchange for the greatest flyweight of all time, Demetrious Johnson, ONE would surrender the undefeated Ben Askren. After contemplating retirement after his last loss, Askren has officially retired. While many fans were disappointed to see pound for pound great Johnson leave to fight lesser opponents overseas, the majority of fans looked forward to seeing if Ben Askren was as good as he said he was. Touting an undefeated record, the possibility of Askren entering the talent pool the UFC had garnered has been a dream for many for several years now. It was 2013 when Askren became a free agent for the first time. Askren joining the UFC seemed inevitable, but supposed disagreements and conflict with Dana White made the natural transition a fantasy. Now, a year and three UFC fights later, Askren has decided to retire.
The out-of-nowhere trade into the UFC meant that Askren could finally prove himself. Despite being undefeated, it had been obvious for years that Askren lacked anything resembling an adequate striking game. Ben Askren solely relied on his overwhelming wrestling skills to succeed. His opponents knew what Askren would attempt to do, and up until his UFC run, no one was able to stop it. The combination of Askren’s undefeated resume, plus glaring weaknesses made any matchup in the UFC tantalizing. Askren’s unique and confident persona helped add to the intrigue. His first UFC fight, against former champion Robbie Lawler, unfortunately, did not answer the questions everyone was looking for. After overcoming some early adversity (read: getting slammed on his head), Askren was able to neutralize Lawler for the better part of the round before a controversial stoppage that is better left un-discussed. His second UFC had the added tension of finally being a definitive answer to Askren’s skillset as well as being a grudge match. Jorge Masvidal’s knee-heard-round-the-world left Ben with his first loss and on the receiving end of the promotion’s quickest finish.
Ben’s third, and now the final fight was a rightful step down that was unlikely to have any fluke-ending. Going up against 41-year-old Jiu-Jitsu ace Demian Maia, Askren was left in a must-win situation. Despite occasional success, Maia was succeeding in his stand-up and eventually secured a choke. Askren, who had constantly believed himself to be the best welterweight, even confidently proclaiming to be better than Georges St-Pierre, had answered all the questions around his skillset. It was clear to anyone watching that Askren was simply not one of the elite welterweights. This is not to say the Ben Askren experiment was not a success. His unique persona and charisma made an exciting addition to a roster lacking exciting characters, and his fights against Lawler and Masvidal will remain in the public conscious. Before the trade brought Ben Askren to the UFC, most would have assumed he would remain the sports biggest what-if: an undefeated olympian who was never given a chance to prove himself. Now, as Askren retires, those questions don’t have to linger and we can all be thankful to know Askren’s place in welterweight history, all while his trade-in partner, Demetrious Johnson, continues to amass wins in Asia.
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