ONE Championship welterweight titleholder Ben Askren explains why he plans on stepping away from MMA after his November fight against Shinya Aoki and what it would take to get him back in the cage in the future.
Just days after defending his ONE Championship welterweight title for the third time, Ben Askren’s next fight was announced — a bizarre matchup against longtime mixed martial artist Shinya Aoki, who is best known for his lightweight run and has even competed at featherweight.
ONE Championship chairman Chatri Sityodtong announced the November bout in a social media post, and shocked fans and media by saying that it would be Askren’s last fight.
The undefeated Askren is one of the most dominant champions in MMA today, and at 33 years old, he will be retiring from MMA earlier than most fighters.
Askren confirmed the retirement news in an interview with Ariel Helwani on Tuesday’s The MMA Hour. “Funky” said he’d only come back after the Aoki fight if it was against the top welterweight in the world — other than current UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley, whom Askren trains with at Roufusport in Milwaukee.
“The one and only way I would ever come back for another fight is if it was for the No. 1 spot in the world. Not two, not three, not four, not five. None of those spots,” Askren said. “Then obviously the second part of that would be his name is not Tyron Woodley, because I have no interest in fighting Tyron, a very good friend of mine. So if for some reason the No. 1 person’s name was not Tyron Woodley, and I got offered a fight against No. 1, I would come back to prove I was No. 1. But other than that, I’m retired. I don’t need to come back and prove I’m two or three or four, anywhere in there; I’ll be done.”
There are two reasons Askren plans on stepping away later this year, he said. Firstly, Askren wants to do what most fighters don’t do — retire at the right time, before long-term injuries and damage are suffered. Askren already feels out of his physical prime and doesn’t think he’d get much better from here, so now’s a perfect time to step away, he said.
“If you think about who retires during their prime, the number of athletes who do that is very small,” Askren said. “Obviously, in a sport like golf, we see Tiger Woods fall off. There’s not really too much damage he can take from that, although when you watch him and he sucks and you’re like, ‘God, you used to be so good but you suck now,’ it’s concerning as a fan. But then you look at someone like Muhammad Ali, who was literally my favorite athlete of all time. The punishment he took from sticking around too long past his prime, we could guess it led to a lot of the problems he had later in his life.
“I am definitely not, physically, at the peak I was, say, four to five years ago,” he said. “It’s a slippery slope, because can I still compete with the best in the world? Yeah, of course I can can, but you start getting a little worse, and a little worse, and a little worse. So when is that cut off? For me, I set something for myself — I said, ‘This is going to be it for me.’ I said it awhile back. I’m going to stick by it, because I need to be disciplined in that matter, and I think a lot of athletes don’t do that for themselves.”
Secondly, fighting has taken a lot of time to coach other fighters and people and to spend time with his family away from Askren. He wants more time to do both things.
And for Askren, this talk of retirement isn’t anything new: he has planned to hang his gloves up for good at the end of 2017 for already about two years, back when he signed his latest contract with ONE Championship.
“If you’re competing right, if you’re doing it right, competition should be a very selfish pursuit,” Askren said. “When I was younger, I always said I would be done by the time I was 30 (years old), because I wanted to be able to give back. I thought I would be coaching — and I am — and I thought I would be a parent — and I am. There’s a lot of things that I have to do. For example, I didn’t coach anyone for about the last six weeks before my fight at AWA, because this is my time, and I need to get ready. There’s things I missed out on in my kids’ lives, because I have to get ready.”
Moving forward, after his MMA swan song in two months, Askren hopes to stay busy and compete in grappling and wrestling, because competing is what he loves to do — he just doesn’t want to have to dedicate his entire life to it and take away from family time. He also needs a way to stay in shape.
“Maybe a couple grappling competitions a year, maybe a couple wrestling matches,” he said. “Something like that, because I know I’ll miss competing. But something where I feel like I have to be the best in the world at it, something where I don’t have to be totally selfish.”
Just months away from the end of his MMA career, Askren said he doesn’t have any regrets. Of course, Askren never made it to the UFC — the big leagues of the sport. But it was always very public that UFC president Dana White was never interested in signing him, so that shouldn’t be a blemish on his career. It’s out of his control that he never fought in the Octagon.
“I’m perfectly content,” he said. “I have never turned down a fight, I’ve never pulled out of a fight, I’ve never missed weight, I’ve never failed a drug test, and I’ve never lost.
“I wasn’t granted the opportunity to fight some of the best guys in the world. And that was something that was not on my end by any sense of the imagination. So yeah, I am definitely satisfied, and I don’t really think there’s anything I could’ve or would’ve done differently.”