Ben Askren surprised the MMA community by announcing his retirement from the sport Monday, ending a storied career for one of Missouri’s greatest athletes.
Askren’s career blossomed as a wrestler at Missouri. After winning two state championships in high school, he joined coach Brian Smith in 2003. He also worked with Mike Eierman, a former volunteer assistant at MU and club coach, for four All-American seasons in the 174-pound weight class.
“He knew in his head that he was going to do some special things,” Eierman said. “And it’s just exciting to be around someone like that.”
Askren’s style of wrestling, called “Funk”, is a higher-risk style of wrestling that is more reactionary than traditional wrestling. Askren brought that style to Columbia with Eierman, who noticed how Askren used that style to make up for his lack of physical gifts.
“He was going to outsmart you and he was going to pin you, as opposed to getting into a muscle or an athletic fight,” Eierman said. “What he was the best at was using his brain and how he thought about things and how to strategically put you in positions where, you know, you’re in trouble.”
Askren used this style to become one of the greatest wrestlers in collegiate history. He accumulated a 153-8 record at Missouri, winning a national championship in each of his last two years with an 87-match unbeaten streak during that span.
The “Funk” style is something Eierman, a former wrestler at Nebraska, passed down to J’den Cox and Jaydin Eierman as a youth wrestling coach in mid-Missouri.
“The whole country needs to start wrestling kind of the way (Askren) was doing things,” Eierman said. “He approached it with a mindset and an understanding of what to do as opposed to just go out there and physically, you know, get into a fight with somebody and wrestle hard.”
Askren carried that style into professional wrestling, where he was 19-2-1 in MMA, becoming a ONE welterweight champion before a 1-2 record in UFC. Eierman still saw Askren use a style that would work for many different wrestlers.
“What was working for him, I knew could work for everybody else,” Eierman said. “I kind of changed the coaching as far as we really got to get, you know, physically, we gotta run sprints, and we gotta lift weights to we just need to be in the wrestling room, and we really need to go to work.”
What’s next for Askren in retirement? Eierman thinks coaching might be a good step for the MU alum.
Askren and his brother, Max, who won a national championship at Missouri in 2009, lead the Askren Wrestling Academy in three separate Wisconsin locations. They coach wrestlers at all levels and trained current Missouri wrestler Peyton Mocco while he was a high schooler in West Allis, Wisconsin.
“We definitely need coaches like him in the sport,” Eierman said. “Without a doubt we need him. We need that type of intelligence and that type of coaching.”