The Film Room: Ben Askren

By Kevin Wilson Mar 1, 2019
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One of the greatest wrestlers of all time in mixed martial arts, Ben Askren finally steps inside the Octagon for the first time this weekend when he takes on former welterweight champion Robbie Lawler at UFC 235. Askren has arguably been the best fighter in the world outside of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, and now gets the chance to prove his skills against one of the best welterweights in the world.

Askren is not just one of the best grapplers in MMA history, but he is one of the greatest collegiate wrestlers of all time and his name deserves to be up there with Cael Sanderson. He earned a 153-8 NCAA wrestling record and was a four-time Division 1 All-American out of the University of Missouri. After college, he transitioned to freestyle wrestling and had two matches in the 2008 Olympics, winning one of them, despite being very new to freestyle. After the Olympics, Askren transitioned to MMA and quickly became one of the most dominant grapplers in the history of the sport.

With a lifetime of wrestling experience, Askren is proficient at every takedown there is. Any collegiate wrestler is going to be great at your standard single- and double-leg takedowns, so today we are going to focus on Askren’s favorite takedowns and the unorthodox ways he gets opponents to the ground.

A lot of Askren’s takedowns come from manipulating the upper body instead of the lower body. He likes to get double underhooks and either drag them to the mat or trip the legs. Something to notice is how he switches between the two. Askren will get double underhooks and lift up as if he’s dragging or slamming to the ground and then immediately sweep a leg while they are focused on the upper body.

Askren also likes to sweep the legs from a body lock or single-leg attempt. Since the opponent knows the takedown is coming and probably trained exclusively for it, he has to get creative. Just like his upper body takedowns, he will trick the opponent into thinking he’s going for a power single and then switch to a trip or throw. Askren is also one of the few people in MMA that can routinely land the head and arm throw. The head and arm throw is one of the easiest to defend, but Askren uses hips perfectly to float the opponent over while never letting go of his grip.

Another interesting aspect of Askren’s grappling is how he uses the opponent’s sprawl to secure a takedown. Again, the opponent knows Askren wants the fight on the ground, so they probably trained their sprawl a lot during camp. But just because you sprawl on a takedown attempt doesn't mean Askren is done. Once the opponent sprawls, Askren won’t let go of his grip no matter how extended his arms are and will slowly work his way up into a clinch where he can get double underhooks. The most important aspect of these takedowns is that Askren sometimes intentionally lets them sprawl out of the first attempt to set up the second. He will often shoot for takedowns with no setup from a mile away knowing the opponent will sprawl, and even though it seems his opponent did the right thing; the fight is now on the ground in Askren’s world. Once the opponent sprawls, he will continue to drive into the hips and land a takedown from his knees, or he will switch to a single leg and turn them outside to secure the takedown. So essentially, Askren is letting the opponent sprawl, giving them a false sense of security before transiting to another takedown which is the one he intended to land all along.

Once the fight hits the ground is when things get really interesting. Early in his career, Askren seemed to try to mix in his folkstyle wrestling with classic jiu-jitsu techniques. He would land a takedown, pass to mount, and either strike, take the back or look for submissions. All jiu-jitsu in MMA 101. The problem was he had a hard time keeping people in these positions simply because he wasn’t used to it. As his career progressed, he figured out that his folkstyle grappling techniques, although rarely used in MMA, were the better way to control an opponent for him. Instead of looking for mount, he now tries to pass to a crucifix or “Iowa ride” position where he can control his opponent and land strikes.

Early on, Askren was fine with posturing up in full guard or mount to land strikes, but now he prefers a crucifix to take advantage of his folkstyle. The crucifix is a standard position in MMA that fighters like Khabib Nurmagomedov have used extensively and showed the dominance of the position. Askren likes the crucifix and has dominated opponents in that position, but his favorite position on the ground is the folkstyle ankle ride.

The ankle ride has rarely been used correctly outside of Askren, Nurmagomedov and Georges St. Pierre, but it is one of the most dominant grappling positions in MMA. Notice Askren has the opponent's right leg hooked and keeps his left hand around his body in the seatbelt position. The hooked leg allows Askren to control the lower body and roll with the opponent when they try to escape. The seatbelt is used to control the upper body, which leaves Askren with a free hand to strike with. If the opponent tries to roll inside to escape, Askren will float his hips and end up in side control before hooking the leg and going back to the ankle ride. And if they roll outside the hooked leg, this allows Askren to move with them and keep the position.

As you’ve probably guessed by now, Askren is not a great striker and spends very little time on the feet. In fact, he probably lands more ground strikes in one fight than he has on the feet in his entire career. He throws nothing but jabs and right hooks and his defense is equally limited. So far, it hasn’t been a problem but the one asterisk on Askren’s career is that he hasn’t fought many formidable opponents. His best wins are over Lyman Good, Douglas Lima and Andrey Koreshkov, who were all very young at the time and years away from their prime. His other notable wins are over an old Jay Hieron and Shinya Aoki who hasn’t fought anybody since 2012. Now, Askren steps inside the Octagon for the first time against one of the greatest strikers of all time in Lawler, albeit out of his prime. If Askren can get the fight to the ground, it will be one-sided domination, but if he hangs around with Lawler on the feet, it won't end well for him. Whatever happens, it's going to be interesting to see if Askren’s skills can hold up against the best fighters in the world. Advertisement
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