American MMA fighter Ben Askren eyes early closure

Ben Askren, who has compiled a 14-0 record, has no intention of joining the lucrative Ultimate Fighting Championship any time soon.
Ben Askren, who has compiled a 14-0 record, has no intention of joining the lucrative Ultimate Fighting Championship any time soon.ST PHOTO: LAU FOOK KONG

American predicts win over Santos by 8th minute in MMA bout touted as grudge match

American MMA fighter Ben Askren has unfinished business on his mind. Seven months after his bout with Luis Santos was stopped because he allegedly poked the Brazilian's eye, the former wrestler - who participated in the 2008 Beijing Olympics - has another chance to settle the issue conclusively.

His showdown with Santos, 35, is the main draw in a nine-card programme in ONE Championship's Pride of Lions at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on Friday.

Askren, 31, who switched to mixed martial arts (MMA) after the 2008 Olympics, is the ONE Championship welterweight world champion with a 14-0 record.

Santos has 70 professional MMA bouts to his name and is Askren's biggest competitor thus far.

The two faced off in April in Manila in a fight that was highly touted but ended in a mere two minutes.

CLEARLY AN EXCUSE

It wasn't like I poked him and it went really far in, I just barely grazed him so I think he played it up a lot. I think he was lying.

BEN ASKREN, ONE Championship's welterweight world champion whose April bout with Luis Santos was stopped when his rival claimed he had been poked in the eye

Askren was the favourite to win but the Brazilian came out aggressively with a flurry of kicks that put his rival on the defensive.

But just as the American was beginning to gain momentum and started hitting back, Santos claimed that he had been poked in the eye, which led to a no-contest.

It left a blemish on Askren's perfect record - a matter which still rankles. Speaking to The Straits Times yesterday, he said: "I think he was faking it.

"I think I grazed him a little bit but if you watch MMA, eye pokes happen a lot and you know that eye pokes very very rarely end fights, like it never happens.

"It wasn't like I poked him and it went really far in, I just barely grazed him so I think he played it up a lot. I think he was lying.

"I definitely lost respect for him because when you're in a competition, you're not supposed to lie.

"You're supposed to compete to the best of your abilities... and if you say no, you can't compete because of your eye, you're lying and looking for a way out of the fight so I definitely lost respect for him."

In what many MMA fans will see as a grudge match on Friday, Askren's game plan will be to take the fight to his rival as he says: "He will start strong but he will also fade fast.

"Even within the first two minutes, he starts to slow down so I will keep the pressure up.

"Fighting takes a lot of toughness and heart. I don't think he has it."

Askren has learnt a lot from their first fight, admitting that he made the mistake of being too casual with Santos then.

On Friday, he will make sure that he can "better block his kicks and be a little stronger in my takedowns".

"I hope to beat him, make him humble, break his spirit and show everybody that I was the better person from the word 'go'."

Askren then added ominously: "I want to finish him in no more than eight minutes."

Yet, despite all his accomplishments, the American sees himself remaining with Singapore-based ONE Championship in the foreseeable future instead of jumping ship to the more lucrative Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).

"ONE treats me really well.

"They're a great organisation and they're growing a lot not only in Asia but also around the world so I see my future with them."

Apart from the main event between Askren and Santos, three Singaporeans - Benedict Ang, Amir Khan and Angela Lee are also hoping to pick up wins in the cage on home ground.

•Tickets for the Pride of Lions start at $38 and can be purchased at sportshubtix.com

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 11, 2015, with the headline 'ASKREN EYES EARLY CLOSURE'. Print Edition | Subscribe