The Two Ben Askrens

It was really a no-brainer of a question, at least for someone who has been inside the worlds of MMA and wrestling for some time, and I pretty much knew the answer ahead of time.

“Which of these two, between wrestling and MMA, do you personally enjoy more?” I asked Ben Askren in a recent interview on No Holds Barred. “Because it’s been my view all these years, and speaking with a lot of people, is that, if you ask top-level wrestlers, most of them will say wrestling, but there’s no money in wrestling, or very, very little money in wrestling. And they went into MMA because of the finances, particularly for those that were not on the top level of wrestling. But if they had their choice, if the finances were equal, a lot of them would stay with wrestling. Which of these two do you personally like the most, both as a competitor and also a spectator?”

Without hesitation he replied, “I feel the exact same way. Exactly what you said. That would be my statement.” And this from someone who prides himself in making his own statements.

Yet Ben Askren, popular as a wrestler and known for his unique, funky style, continues to fight in MMA, where he is undefeated but far less popular because he usually uses his wrestling to position himself to win all his matches in a sport which less and less values its grappling roots.

Yes, Ben Askren, now 29 and based in Wisconsin, continues to compete in his first athletic love. A two-time NCAA Div. I national champion at Missouri and Hodge Trophy winner, a 2008 U.S. Olympian in freestyle wrestling, and a 2009 FILA world champion in grappling (which really should be called what it is, submission wrestling), he wrestled in the main event of the debut show of the Agon Wrestling Championships on October 27, 2013, in Las Vegas, Nevada. There he handily defeated and dominated two-time NCAA champion and four-time NCAA All-American wrestler Quentin Wright by a score of 22-8. Agon uses a blend of freestyle and American folkstyle rules, and this match was held at 195 pounds. He is also acting as the matchmaker for Agon, whose next show is slated for December 22 in Flint, Michigan. And he is expected to return to the mat himself at Agon 3 on January 26, against an opponent to be named (presumably in part by himself as matchmaker).

See Ben Askren Win The 2007 NCAA 174  Pound Title

But Agon is a new and upstart organization, growing but without any TV coverage and thus with only limited revenues coming in which can be used to pay their wrestlers. Agon, of course, hopes to grow rapidly and get a TV deal in 2014, but even the best of intentions cannot be cashed at any bank.

Although Askren is undefeated in MMA, has a record of 12-0 with three submission and three KO/TKO wins, and was the reigning Bellator MMA welterweight champion, he was recently released by that organization when his contract expired. His promoter, Bjorn Rebney, tried to devalue him in the press release announcing their parting by calling him “one-dimensional,” even though he had defeated everyone Rebney had put in front of him in this multidimensional undertaking, including TKO wins in his last two fights there against the tough fighters Andrey Koreshkov and Karl Amoussou.

He was then rejected by UFC president Dana White, who suggested that he sign with the lower-profile World Series of Fighting. That was another promoter trying to slap this talented fighter/wrestler, and of course such counsel was ignored.

So it is off to the burgeoning MMA scene in Asia for Ben Askren. He will now fight for Asia’s largest MMA promotion, ONE FC, which is televised live to over 300 million homes in over 20 countries in Asia on Star Sports, the regional equivalent of ESPN in the U.S., as well as streamed worldwide on an Internet pay-per-view. A start date has not yet been announced, but is expected to be about March or April of 2014. Along with this, he will train at Singapore’s prestigious Evolve MMA, an almost luxurious facility that is one of the best such gyms anywhere in the world.

But he is still disliked by many of the American UFC faithful. Beloved in wrestling and besmirched in MMA, he must only dabble in the sport which is his first love while seeking those dollars, American or Singaporean, in something which is essentially a day job.

If this reborn real professional wrestling can mature and prosper, it could provide a happy ending to our tale of two Ben Askrens. It is here, in the world’s oldest and greatest sport, that he has the greatest potential to be a superstar.

See Ben Win His  Last Match in Bellator


One person who thinks Askren could become a superstar in any style of professional wrestling is Mike Chapman, who has devoted nearly half a century to studying both amateur and pro wrestling. Chapman has written 16 books that deal with wrestling, has attended 44 NCAA Wrestling Championships, and founded both WIN magazine (amateur wrestling’s top publication) and the Dan Gable Museum in Waterloo, Iowa. He also created the Dan Hodge Trophy, which goes to the top college wrestler each season. Chapman is regarded as a top authority on the early days of pro wrestling, and was close friends with such pro wrestling icons as the late Lou Thesz and Dick Hutton, and with Dan Hodge, who is 80 years old and is a living legend in both amateur and pro wrestling..

Chapman’s hero is Frank Gotch, the great professional champion from 1908 to 1915, a man that many regard as the top pro wrestler of all time, and who was a media star of the first rank in that time period. He now sees similarities between Gotch and Askren.

“I think Ben is virtually unbeatable in a 20-minute match with catch rules,” where you win by pin or submission, said Chapman, “at least under 200 pounds. I have watched his career develop ever since his college days and in the Bellator competitions, and he has a mat sense that is truly remarkable, maybe the best I’ve seen in five decades of going to the NCAAs. And he’s extremely competitive and fearless.

“Frank Gotch’s impact was due to two primary factors — first, he was invincible in the ring (once he hit his peak years), and, second, he had great appeal outside the ring. He was a control wrestler, like Ben, when doing his craft but was able to turn on the needed charisma outside the ring.

“When you look back at the history of sports, there were always larger-than-life figures that lifted the entire sport up by the bootstraps,” said Chapman. “It was Babe Ruth in baseball, Red Grange in football, Jack Dempsey in boxing, Arnold Palmer in golf. In more recent years, there was Muhammad Ali to revitalize boxing, and it was Arnold Schwarzenegger in bodybuilding and Bruce Lee in the world of martial arts.

“I think Ben Askren could be that breakthrough type of athlete for pro wrestling. But there are two keys, in my opinion: First, the style of wrestling simply must be one that the audience wants to see, which means a very aggressive form, and two, the main hero has to be charismatic enough to pull in media attention.

“I think Ben Askren can fit that model very well.

“But the keys to creating an empire are to create heroes that people wanted to see… make them bigger than life. And to do that today, you need television exposure, pure and simple.”

That is the challenge for this new real professional wrestling circuit in the U.S., which is still quite fractured. In it, Agon is joined by events such as Tour ACW, Victory Wrestling Challenge, and some of the matches at the annual Grapple at the Garden, which mainly features top college wrestling teams in dual meets at Madison Square Garden in New York. But Ben believes that Agon has a bright future.

“At this point we all have the same idea. It’s just going to come down to who’s going to execute the idea the best,” he said.

“We’ve already announced a second and a third and a fourth event. So we’re getting pretty ambitious in this. I think we have a really good plan to be around for a long time, to the point where we’re not really losing money off the bat. We’re kind of breaking even with our events, and that way we’ll be around for a long time.”

(Eddie Goldman is the host and producer of the No Holds Barred podcast and blog, at


See Ben  Teach The Secret To His Success

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