Ben Askren rules the welterweight roost in One Championship. | Photo Courtesy: One Championship
Who is the best fighter in the world in any given weight class? Historically, the answer to the question was “the current UFC champion.” However, with promotions like Bellator MMA, World Series of Fighting and One Championship growing in popularity and gaining visibility, the answer might no longer be quite so simple.
Case in point: Ben Askren.
Askren, the reigning One Championship titleholder at 170 pounds, is ranked among the top 10 welterweights in the sport. Yet, he is the only fighter in the group who has not yet fought in the Ultimate Fighting Championship. The undefeated Askren maintains the belief that he should be ranked atop a division that includes Robbie Lawler, Johny Hendricks, Rory MacDonald, Carlos Condit and his former teammate at the University of Missouri, Tyron Woodley.
“One hundred percent,” Askren said, “I think I am the best welterweight in the world.”
One Championship, the largest MMA promotion in Asia, signed the four-time NCAA All-American, onetime Olympian and former Bellator champion in 2014. He has since finished two straight opponents inside one round -- he needed less than 90 seconds to take out Nobutatsu Suzuki in August -- and captured One Championship gold in the process. Askren will put his title on the line this Friday, when he faces Luis Santos in the One Championship 26 main event at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay, Philippines.
“I think my match with Santos will be the same as [the one with] Suzuki,” Askren said. “I think his ground game will be a little bit better but not that much. I will take him down, pound him out and have my hands raised and the belt wrapped around my waist.”
While Santos is only five years Askren’s senior, he has five times as many professional fights under his belt. Askren seems unconcerned.
“I don’t think Santos brings anything new to the table for me,” he said. “Even though he has 70 fights, I bring something new to the table because I have a skill set that is unique that no one can really give him the feel of in practice. So even with 70 fights, he’s going to have a tough time dealing with me.”
Askren remains confident that he will retain his One Championship crown, and he has made it clear in interviews and through Twitter and various other social media outlets that he would someday like to face off with Hendricks, the former UFC welterweight champion.
“It doesn’t matter if Hendricks has a belt or not,” Askren said, “I’d like to fight him, for sure.”
Askren holds Lawler, the reigning UFC welterweight titleholder, in high regard.
“I’d say the toughest fight for me is Lawler, as he has good takedown defense and he hits really hard,” Askren said. “Robbie has a great streak going, and I think he is a really tough fighter.”
Even with One Championship expanding and the UFC making inroads in South Korea, Japan and the Philippines, the idea of the two sides cooperating with one another seems far-fetched at best. Askren, however, has the rare perspective of someone who has competed on the big stage in both the United States and Asia.
“I don’t know if One and the UFC will combine to do an East-versus-West event, but they do have a really unique duopoly going, with One being so dominant in Asia [and] with the UFC in America,” he said. “We shall see.”