Don’t call Ben Askren "funky."
“I don’t like that nickname,” Askren said. “It won’t be my nickname for another fight. I don’t know who put that up.”
“Funky” was the nickname given to former Missouri wrestler Askren for his first Mixed Martial Arts fight on Saturday night. Askren won his fight by technical knockout early into the first round. But Askren doesn’t believe he has earned a nickname and doesn’t want anyone to think he’s doing this simply to put on a show.
“Pro-wrestling is fake,” Askren said. “It’s not real. Anyone who would actually dare to compare them is mentally deprived.”
Askren doesn’t want people to compare MMA to professional wrestling, but he also doesn’t want them to judge him because he is trying something new. He competed in the Beijing Olympics last summer and doesn’t feel that this is a step down. He said he believes MMA is a good sport and it will be around for a long time.
“The younger generation is very willing to change,” Askren said. “They love that the sport of MMA is giving new wrestlers an opportunity. There are so many wrestlers now that are taking that opportunity and running with it and doing well. The old guard is resistant to change. They think MMA is garbage because they haven’t looked into it. They aren’t giving me a shot.”
Missouri wrestling coach Brian Smith is admittedly not the biggest fan of MMA, but he is excited that it gives wrestlers another shot at being successful.
“He’s worked really hard at it,” Smith said. “It’s not like he just popped into the ring and hasn’t worked at it. He leaves everyday from practice and goes over and trains. He’s been up there a lot. It hasn’t been a couple month thing. It’s been a few years of him really starting to learn more and more about the sport and all of the different skills that it takes.”
Askren is perceived by some as arrogant. Smith said he isn’t arrogant, but confident.
“Showmanship is good in this,” Smith said. “He’s going to be a good fit for the MMA. I think he’s going to do real good. If you’re a really good fighter, and nobody knows who you are, a lot of people won’t buy tickets. When you have a great personality, it sells tickets. Showmanship is good and he backs it up with winning.”
University of Pittsburgh wrestling coach Keith Gavin is one of the men that competed for an Olympic spot last summer and was beat out by Askren. Gavin, a two-time All-American, wrestled Askren three times in college. Askren won all three matches and defeated Gavin for his second of two NCAA national titles.
“To continue wrestling, it’s not an easy lifestyle,” Gavin said by phone. “You don’t make any money and you travel around a lot. With MMA, you still can compete and if you get good, you can make a lot of money.”
Gavin said, “He can go forever. He never gets tired. He’s going to break a lot of people because very few have the endurance he does.”
Askren started training at American Top Team, an MMA training facility in Columbia, even before he graduated from Missouri. Francisco “Kiko” France is Askren’s main trainer. France spent four months working out with Askren twice a day before Askren’s fight.
“Ben, he’s in a different level,” France said. “He’s going to do a few fights to make sure he’s comfortable, but he’s already on another level. He’s the best wrestler in the country. He’s a purple belt in Brazilian jujitsu. He’s ready for big shows.”
France said he believes the only thing Askren needs to work on is his striking, which is MMA’s word for punching.
“It’s just like any other sport, France said. “We train and we fight. I think Ben, in a couple years, is going to be a big name in MMA.”