Welterweight titleholder Ben Askren will defend his belt against Russia’s Nikolay Aleksakhin in the One Championship 40 “Global Rivals” main event on Friday at the Mall of Asia Arena in Manila, Philippines.
“It’s a fairly easy fight for me,” Askren told Sherdog.com.
A statement like that from most fighters would be considered trash talk, but coming from the former Bellator MMA champion and onetime Olympic wrestler, it sounds more like a confident assessment.
“I like the fight,” Askren said. “I think he’s got a nice combat sambo background, but the first guy I fought in One actually was a world bronze medalist in combat sambo; and I think their style fits right in to what I want to do -- my style.”
Askren’s credentials do his talking for him, but his performances under the One Championship banner have brought an entirely new conversation to the table. Once criticized as a grinding decision machine, the undefeated Askren has finished four of his last five fights and now wants to show fans his new bag of tricks.
“I’ve been feeling really sharp in camp,” he said. “I’ve developed a few new positions where I was good, but now, I’m way better than I was before and I think I’m going to be able to take advantage. It’s going to be a good fight for me.”
Only one smudge appears on Askren’s otherwise perfect resume: a no-contest that resulted from an inadvertent eye poke against Luis Santos a year ago. One Championship fans later voted the Brazilian as the opponent they wanted to see Askren face most, so a rematch was booked for November. However, Santos failed to make weight and declined a fight at a 190-pound catchweight on fight day.
“If I was boss, I would have fired him,” Askren said. “Obviously, they were very frustrated with him, but who knows? Maybe they believe in second chances.”
While fans continue to push for a Santos rematch, Askren may not care to go down that road.
“Not looking past this fight at all, but seriously, I’ve never turned down a fight in my life and I wouldn’t start then; but the guy did ruin almost a year of my fighting career, between faking an eye poke and then not making weight,” he said. “I’d tell One to have a backup ready and handy, in case this guy goes ‘idiot mode’ again.”
If Askren succeeds in retaining his title against Aleksakhin, the rematch with Santos seems likely. “Sapo” remains one of the organization’s top contenders, and Askren recently inked a new six-fight contract with One Championship.
“I’m happy with how things are going with ONE,” he said, “and I’m excited to get back in the cage.”