Ben Askren has gone the distance in six straight bouts. | Photo: Keith Mills/Sherdog.com
I have a confession to make: I like Ben Askren.
I like that he knows his bread and butter. I like that he does not try to be something he is not. I like that he spits it real at reporters, fans and promoters alike. I like that he joined the Voluntary Anti-Doping Agency. I like the floppy hair, the even-floppier trunks, and sue me, but I like that he succeeds in mixed martial arts with a physique that looks more like Mr. Fantastic than Mr. Olympia.
A two-time Dan Hodge Trophy winner at the University of Missouri, Askren has used a hard-nosed wrestling attack to guide him to a perfect 10-0 record in MMA. It has not always been easy, but “Funky” has gotten the job done just the same.
My favorite Askren performance was his most recent one, otherwise known as “The Passion of Douglas Lima,” in which the champion tortured the hard-hitting prospect with takedown after takedown, slowly breaking his will over the course of 25 minutes.
In the eyes of many, Lima represented Askren’s stiffest test to date. If the versatile, powerful striker could catch Askren coming in early with a right straight or an uppercut or a knee, he might be able to dramatically alter Askren’s plans for ground domination.
One minute and one gorgeous salto later, and “The Phenom” was history before he even knew it. All that speed, power and explosiveness unfortunately amounted to squat for the prospect in a series of events that reminded me of watching a boa constrictor drown a panther on the Discovery Channel. All the while, the people in the peanut gallery booed, and the Twitter twerps decried the performance as boring beyond measure. If you counted yourself among those folks, I think it is finally time for you to shut your mouth, because adults are talking now.
I have no idea if Askren could cut the mustard against the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s Top 10, and I honestly think we might never know thanks to the Missourian’s second-generation Bellator Fighting Championships contract. However, I do know he has earned the right to be mentioned in that discussion. To some, Askren’s style might be grating, but one would have to be blind to ignore its effectiveness.
Askren will defend his belt against another fast-twitch talent in Karl Amoussou in the main event of Bellator 86 on Thursday at the Winstar World Casino in Thackerville, Okla. Here is what else to watch for during the Spike TV broadcast and Spike.com stream:
While I fully realize I just gushed over Askren like Jon Cryer over Molly Ringwald, I think we should still talk about Amoussou and his journey to a title shot.
The Frenchman made the cut to 170 pounds last year, transforming himself from a soft middleweight into a pretty sharp welterweight for the Season 6 tournament. We were treated to a violent finish over Chris Lozano in the quarterfinals followed by a hard-fought split decision win over a solid competitor in David Rickels in the Round of 4. Then, Amoussou produced something truly special in the tournament final, snatching a jaw-dropping inverted heel hook against Bryan Baker that earned him both a title shot and Sherdog.com’s “Submission of the Year.”
This must be exactly how Amoussou approaches the Askren fight. He has to go to work early, and he has to take a lot of risks. If he ends up underneath the champion for more than just a few minutes, I do not see him rising with enough resolve to put Askren in danger for the rest of the fight.
While Askren is everything I described in the previous section, like all fighters, he has weaknesses. Namely, “Funky” is sometimes prone to walking forward or shooting in with his face exposed, leaving small openings that require split-second timing and excellent footwork to exploit. They are difficult, but not impossible, to find.
Coronation or Crash
What a year it has been for Muhammed Lawal.
First, “King Mo” tested positive for an anabolic steroid -- a finding in which Lawal asserted he was innocent of any intentional wrongdoing -- and saw his knockout of Lorenz Larkin morph into a no contest following his Nevada Athletic Commission disciplinary hearing, which itself was not without incident.
After using some choice words to describe commissioner Pat Lundvall on Twitter (hint: one of those words was b----), Lawal was released from his Strikeforce contract, all while a staph infection ate away at his leg and nearly killed him. Thankfully, Lawal managed to defeat the flesh-eating bacteria and inked a contract to compete for both Bellator and Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, debuting with the professional wrestling organization in October.
Take a quick look at Bellator’s Season 8 light heavyweight bracket. Upon first glance, a reasonable person would assume Lawal will go Mike Tyson all over everybody’s faces, right? That is quite a load to carry for a fighter, especially when he has been away from the cage for more than a year. Will Lawal live up to expectations and dispose of Przemyslaw Mysiala in his first step toward the Bellator title?
While the Season 8 welterweight draw looks to be a toss-up to some degree, I reckon there are four serious names to keep an eye on: Lima, Marius Zaromskis, Brent Weedman and Ben Saunders.
Zaromskis, as we know, is a pretty one-dimensional competitor. With that said, when he loads up with a punch or a kick, you had better be somewhere else. Weedman should be able to tie the Lithuanian into knots if the fight hits the floor, but something tells me the American will want to test himself standing against the former Dream champion. Translation: one of these guys is probably taking a nap.
As previously mentioned, Lima possesses perhaps the most accurate and powerful standup in Bellator’s 170-pound division, and he should hold a host of advantages over Michail Tsarev. However, if the Russian can weather Lima’s early offense, there is a chance he could pull off a submission late in the fight.
Saunders is always a potential threat to win a tournament, though it should come as a concern for the UFC veteran that he has struck out twice in his bids to earn a Bellator title shot. Even so, he will likely find himself in the driver’s seat against Koffi Adzitso, who I imagine will struggle with Saunders’ length and clinch attack.
Also, we cannot forget about Raul Amaya or Jose de Ribamar Machado Gomes, both of whom could pull an upset in the second round. Who will advance to the semifinals and who will head to the back of the line?