For a guy nicknamed “Funky”, Ben Askren is rather straight-forward when it comes to discussing his opponent at Bellator 64, Doug Lima. That fight, which takes place tonight from Caesar’s Windsor in Windsor, Ontario, Canada, will be Askren’s second title defense. In addition to that, Askren feels Lima will present another challenge, aside from gunning for his title.
“Doug is the toughest guy I’ve ever faced,” Askren said to MMAFrenzy.com. “I am really excited for the matchup with him, though. He has a few weaknesses which I will look to exploit, specifically his wrestling. He doesn’t have any wrestling experience, something I obviously do have.”
That wrestling experience, specifically winning two NCAA championships (along with finishing runner-up twice) and qualifying for the 2008 Olympics, has gotten Askren to where he is now. After becoming a professional mixed martial artist in 2009, Askren won the Bellator welterweight title the following year. He has defended that belt since, in a split decision win over Jay Hieron last October.
But now Askren wants to show off other aspects of his game aside from wrestling. He has trained with striking aficionado Duke Roufus in Wisconsin over the last few years. That training, along with facing top strikers inside the Bellator cage, has changed Askren’s striking from what he describes as “night and day”.
“I really have the best striking coaches on the planet,” explained Askren. “I love my coaches and teammates. Duke has been awesome, and has helped my striking so much. I’ve improved a lot even from my last fight in October.”
That fight, a split decision win over former UFC welterweight Jay Hieron, was Askren’s first title defense since winning the title in October 2010. In that fight, Hieron had success on his feet against Askren, and even defended some of the All-American’s takedowns. With that, some fans even felt Hieron had done enough to win the decision. But two of the judges disagreed, and awarded Askren the victory.
Since then, Hieron has continued to voice his displeasure with that decision, and declared that he would not be entering this season’s welterweight tournament. Askren could not disagree with the decision more.
“Jay Hieron is delusional,” Askren exclaimed. “He’s delusional both that he feels that he won that fight and that he is passing up the opportunity for $100,000. What kind of person, that fights for a living, passes up fighting in a tournament and a chance at $100,000?”
Another fighter that Askren has had his moments with is War Machine, aka Jon Koppenhaver. War Machine, who signed with Bellator in December, was set to join this season’s tournament. He immediately went after Askren, calling him a “horrible champion” and that he is “a black eye for Bellator”. Since those comments, War Machine has returned to jail, thus eliminating any chance of him fighting this year.
When responding to War Machine and his status, Askren was rather blunt. “War Machine is not even worth the discussion.”
What is worth discussion for Askren is his hope to continue his reign as welterweight champion. In addition to that, Askren is hopeful that he will be able to enter the cage more than twice a year.
“I’d like to fight more often,” said Askren. “But for now, that doesn’t look likely due to the current format. I like the tournaments, but it does keep me out of action for a bit. We’ll see what happens. For now, I’m just focused on Doug Lima and continuing as champion.”