“Funky” suits both Ben Askren’s hairstyle and his style of fighting. His rugged grace in the cage was a product of years of competing as an amateur wrestler. Askren’s name echoes across the mixed martial arts world as one of the few high-level fighters to retire undefeated, this despite having never appeared in the Ultimate Fighting Championship.
The 33-year-old compiled an 18-0 record and fought for the final time at One Championship “Immortal Pursuit” on Nov. 24, when he defeated Shinya Aoki by technical knockout in under a minute. Here are five things you might not know about Askren:
1. He was a multiple-time NCAA wrestling champion.
Askren won Division I titles in 2006 and 2007 while representing the University of Missouri. He was also a four-time NCAA All-American (2004-07), a three-time Big XII Conference champion (2004, 2006-07), a two-time national runner-up (2004-05) and a two-time winner of the Dan Hodge Trophy (2006-07), which recognizes the nation’s top wrestler. Askren was inducted into the University of Missouri Intercollegiate Athletics Hall of Fame in 2012.
2. The Olympics called, and he answered.
Askren became the second wrestler from the University of Missouri to reach the Olympics -- 2000 silver medalist Sammie Henson was the first -- when he competed at the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing. Entered in the 74-kilogram category, he pinned Hungary’s Istvan Vereb before losing on points, 3-1 and 4-0, to Cuba’s Ivan Fundora.
3. He has enjoyed success as an international grappler.
A Hartland, Wisconsin, native, Askren made waves at the 2009 Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championships, where he submitted Toni Linden with an arm-triangle choke before succumbing to a leg lock from eventual gold medalist Pablo Popovitch. It was a banner year for the “Funky” one, as he struck gold at the 2009 FILA Grappling World Championships in the 84-kilogram, no-gi category.
4. MMA was a good fit.
As one of the top fighters in Bellator MMA, Askren amassed a perfect 9-0 mark with the promotion and captured the welterweight championship while he was at it. He retained the title on four different occasions -- Jay Hieron, Douglas Lima, Karl Amoussou and Andrey Koreshkov were turned away -- before he vacated the throne and entered free agency. Askren signed with One Championship in 2014 and laid claim to the Singapore-based organization’s welterweight crown soon after.
5. He may not be done.
Shortly after he routed Aoki, Askren reaffirmed his plan to retire from mixed martial arts at age 33. The Roufusport star did not want to wait for injuries or mileage to catch up to him, deciding instead to leave a number of productive years on the table. Askren has indicated he would return to face former two-division UFC champion Georges St. Pierre, so MMA might not have seen the last of him.