The evolution of Ben Askren

Written by: Keith Mills

Bellatorstill get criticized for not having top-level talent but Ben Askren proved inhis most recent fight that he is well on the way.  At BFC 64 on April 6th Askrendefended his welterweight title for the second time and remained undefeated,now at 10-0.  Although this fight was hissixth decision in a row what made this fight stand out is it showed how muchAskren has improved. 

During the season 2 tournament Askren used strong takedowns and showedexcellent conditioning as he moved from position to position but he showed nodesire to secure positions.  At times itlooked like his strategy was to confuse his opponents and strike fromunorthodox angles while escaping attacks as opposed to nullifying them.  Watch Askren’s fights against Dan Hornbuckleand Lyman Good for examples of his Askren would move to the side position on aturtling opponent and grab an ankle to spin to another position but had littleaffect on ending the fights.  By contrastUFC champion and ground-and-pound pioneer Matt Hughes was known for his slamsas opposed to leg trips and drags while he wore down opponents with strikesfrom guard.  Former Strikeforce championJake Shields is known for his mix of wrestling and jiu-jitsu, securing positionsand advancing towards submissions.  Allthree are ADCC Worlds vets but Askren comes from a higher level of wrestlinghaving been a member of the 2008 Olympic team making it seem he would be morecontrolling than Hughes or Shields. 

The real comparison regarding Askren is to current UFC champion Georges St.Pierre.  St. Pierre is a great wrestlerand is considering training for the 2012 Olympics but his style is moreconducive to MMA with even his wrestling coaches Rob Moore and Cleo Ncubesaying he would need more time for such. St. Pierre however is very well-rounded with his striking being just aseffective as his wrestling.  Askrendoesn’t have this balance yet as he indicated with his somewhat wild strikingagainst Jay Hieron in his first title defense last October.

That is why Askren’s victory over Douglas Lima was impressive from anadvancement point of view.  As far assubmission wrestling in round 1 Askren found himself in a rare position forhim, turtling with Lima on top defending an armbar.  After escaping Askren defended a heel hookand another armbar before ending the round standing and throwing strikes atLima who was on his back.  In round 2Askren even went for a kimura of his own.

As far as striking Askren seemed much more comfortable throwing knees from theclinch against Lima and in round 4 even threw a spinning back fist.  Askren still showed little interest inkicking from range , instead covering up more to rush Lima’s kicks for thetakedown.  On the ground Askren alsolooked more comfortable striking, spending much of round 4 and 5 standing overa downed Lima throwing punches. 

Of course Askren showed his wrestling strength in the way he would curl Lima upforcing Limas’ knees to his own head or at one point the mat to escape oradvance.  Askren is still not one to lay inguard ala Hughes’ early career but he isn’t as wild as his season 2fights.  This was definitely a moreGnP-based fight than fans are used to seeing from Askren in that sense but avariation Askren is making his own.  Askrenmay not be quite ready for the UFC let alone GSP but he is definitely on theright track.