COLUMBIA — At the end of former Missouri wrestler and Olympian Ben Askren’s first mixed martial arts fight, it was clear he possessed a talent for the sport. Although the usual MMA match lasts for three five-minute rounds, Askren knocked out his opponent in just one minute, 27 seconds.
Askren, a former Missouri wrestler who competed for the United States at the Beijing Olympics, said he felt confident about his MMA debut.
“I was totally excited,” he said. “I really enjoyed it while I was in there, and I was just excited to get in there and get down to business.”
MMA fighting is the “incorporation of every martial art in the planet basically,” according to Askren. So far, Askren is 3-0 in MMA fights and will look to improve his record this spring.
On Dec. 9, Askren signed a contract with Bellator Fighting Championships, a promotional MMA organization that will host its second season in April. The season will consist of eight-man tournaments at four weight levels. Askren will compete at the welterweight (170-pound) division.
Askren signed a two-year contract with Bellator for two 12-week seasons with the guarantee of three or four fights per year for two years. He said he chose Bellator for three reasons.
“Number one, I get to have three fights in three months and you get it done right away, which appeals to me,” he said. “Second, the pay was better than anywhere else. Thirdly, they are letting me do (wrestling) training with the World Team as well, and some organizations don’t like you doing anything outside of the fighting, and they were completely OK with it.”
Although specific times and dates have not been specified, the fights will be broadcast live on Fox Sports Net while shorter highlight shows will be shown on Telemundo and NBC. Askren said the publicity also played a role in his decision to sign on with the organization.
“It would be really big to get my name out there as winning a tournament and it would be big to have my name out there on TV for publicity,” he said.
According to Bellator’s press release, “Askren has been one of the most sought-after free agents in the sport.” Askren said that a lot of his wrestling skills helped contribute to the success he has found in MMA.
“To me, they’re very similar,” he said. “I like the combat, toughness and training. Both of them are really similar in those aspects … You need to be a tough, strong, physical person, but there are totally different objectives and rules.”
Askren first began exploring MMA while wrestling at Missouri. He said that after watching it on TV and seeing friends participate in the sport, he decided to try it.
“I was kind of curious about it and started playing around a bit, and so from there, I kept playing around until I was good at it, and then wanted to go and try and fight,” he said.
According to Missouri wrestling coach Brian Smith, Askren puts in the time to be successful in whatever he does.
“He puts everything into it,” Smith said. “He was training every day and working at it and he really studies what he does, and when you look at how he improves in such a short time, it’s just amazing.”
Although MMA has become a major part of Askren’s life, he said he has not abandoned his wrestling career, and he is currently Director of Operations for the Arizona State wrestling team. He said he has started training for competitive wrestling again after taking nearly a year off after the World Championships and the 2008 Olympics.
In addition to winning a tournament with Bellator, Askren wants to add one more wrestling accomplishment to his resume.
“I never got to win a world or Olympic title,” he said. “I need to do that for my wrestling career to be complete.”