Ben Askren made a name for himself as a mixed martial artist while competing under the Bellator banner, but the undefeated welterweight found himself fighting in some fairly remote venues like the WinStar World Casino in Thackerville, Okla., and the First Council Casino in Newkirk, Okla.
He won’t be competing in the U.S. again anytime soon because last year Askren signed a lucrative, long-term contract with Asia’s biggest MMA promotion, ONE Championship, and has already featured on cards in Singapore and Dubai. Next up is a title defense in Manila on Friday. The 30-year-old says he is relishing the opportunity to compete in sold-out stadiums and arenas in some of the most famous cities on the continent.
“I’m not really thinking about fighting in the U.S. again because right now I am having a blast traveling the world and kicking butt. I have trained my whole life to be able to do what I do, so it is awesome to be able to showcase that in front of huge crowds around the world.”
Next up for Askren is the first defense of the welterweight belt he won in Dubai. The American will be facing Luis Santos in the main event of ONE: Valor of Champions at the SM Mall of Asia Arena. He knows exactly what to expect from an opponent with 35 KO/TKO wins.
“He is very dangerous and I have to take his striking seriously, but I am pumped to be fighting in Manila. I know the last ONE FC show there was sold-out, so I am looking forward to fighting in front of a packed house.”
Santos’ striking is among the very best in the sport and he has an impressive highlight reel of knockouts, but Askren says he has been taking steps to prepare for the Brazilian’s unique skillset.
“I have one of the best MMA striking coaches on the planet in Duke Roufus to get me ready and I’m working every day with the Muay Thai champions at Evolve MMA to make sure that I am well rounded and prepared for anything.”
Askren has stopped his last four opponents; meaning criticism he attracted early on in his MMA career for supposedly being boring has diminished to the point that it has virtually disappeared. It’s difficult to find fault with a 14-0 fighter who has won titles with two of the biggest promotion in the world, but he’s happy to have silenced some of the dissenting voices with recent performances.
“It feels great to be finishing fights. Being from a wrestling background, I didn’t quite have the skill set to finish my early fights. However, I knew in time with my training the finishes would start coming and they have. I don’t intend to stop finishing people anytime soon.”
Askren recently returned from a media event in Manila where his title fight has generated a lot of headlines. He says it was a slightly surreal experience to step off a plane and discover he had superstar status in a county he’d never visited before.
“It was crazy! ONE is huge in the Philippines and three weeks out from the show there was so much media interest. I can’t wait to see what it’s going to be like when I actually fly back there to fight.”
In signing with ONE Championship, as ONE FC is now known, Askren joined an organization that is relatively young, but expanding at a rapid rate. The Philippines will be the third different country in which he has fought since leaving Bellator and he believes this is just the beginning for the Singapore headquartered promotion.
“It’s very exciting. I have already seen a lot of growth in ONE during the first year I have been with the promotion, so it is outstanding seeing them blow up and continue to grow.”
ONE: Valor of Champions is set for the SM Mall of Asia Arena in Manila on Friday, April 24, and the entire event streams live around the world.
(Follow @JamesGoyder on Twitter | Photos courtesy of Khai Yeat Choi and Louie Jabanag)