The Missouri wrestling team traveled to Las Vegas last weekend, but the bright lights of The Strip couldn’t have been further from Ben Askren’s mind.
Askren relied on hard work and solid technique rather than flash to capture the 174-pound championship at the Cliff Keen Invitational.
“Vegas is always fun, it’s a great city,” Askren said. “But in my life, wrestling always comes first, so it’s always business first.”
Askren took care of business, winning all six of his matches in the two-day 45-team event, in which Missouri placed sixth.
“Askren completely dominated, which he expects to do and we do too,” coach Brian Smith said. “But to see him do it is fun to watch.”
Askren, who has been pinning opponents faster than most Las Vegas gamblers lose their stakes, won the first three of his matches by falls, giving him nine consecutive falls to begin the season.
“Every time I go out to wrestle I go for the pin,” Askren said. “People say the ultimate goal of wrestling is to pin your opponent. I think when wrestlers get satisfied is when they start losing, so I just keep going after it.”
Smith said he is confident Askren, his sophomore co-captain, won’t let up. His aggressive demeanor on the mat won’t allow it. Even though away from the mat Askren displays a silly sideways smile under his curly hair, there’s none of what his coach calls his “happy, go-lucky attitude” to be found come match time.
“It completely changes when he gets on the mat,” Smith said. “He’s out there to battle, and he’s upset when he doesn’t pin a guy.
“He puts so much pressure on people and makes you wrestle at his pace; it’s such a hurried pace … as people get tired he keeps going and going and people can’t keep up with him.”
Although Askren didn’t get a pin in his final match in Las Vegas, a 20-5 technical fall win, it wasn’t from lack of effort.
“In his last match, there were 15, 16 seconds to go and he had to take the guy down,” Smith said. “Most people up by 13 or 14 probably would just finish it off and win the title, but he took the kid down, actually had him on his back trying to pin him, but the guy was out of bounds, and he was trying to pull him back in.”
An intimidation factor follows Askren around. It’s hard not to notice when a freshman wins a Big 12 Conference Championship, eventually placing second at the national level to earn All-American status, and the other wrestlers have clearly taken note.
“I guess a lot of people are intimidated after how well I did last year, so I just go out there and go hard every match and I try to put it away right away,” Askren said.
“In some of the matches there were people kind of backing up from me, kind of stalling, and that really frustrates me. I like to go out there and just wrestle, really get after it.”
Said Smith: “If he feels the guy is running from him, he gets mad. That’s the attitude he has.”
Running and stalling are gambles that haven’t paid off, though, as the nine falls show. The Tigers’ record for pins is 18 by Kevin Herron, a heavyweight, two seasons ago . Askren’s career mark of 26 falls is also more than half way to the career falls mark of 47. The odds are that Askren will reach these records, but don’t expect him to sit on the accomplishments.
Askren’s 12-0 record is slightly blemished. He lost an all-star exhibition with Oklahoma’s Chris Pendleton, who also beat Askren for the National Championship at 174 pounds last season and holds a 5-1 career record against him.
Citing the rivalry as a motivator, Askren was back at practice twice Monday despite the long weekend.