As two of the top welterweights square off tonight at UFC 239, Ben Askren (19-0-1, 6 KOs) isn’t shy about sharing his strategy against Jorge Masvidal (33-13, 13 KOs).
“I’m going to walk across the cage, grab him, throw him on the ground and beat his ass,” Askren stated. “I don’t think it’s too complex. That’s been my approach 19 times and it’s worked every time.”
“I’m not really sure why it’s so personal for him, for me, it’s just another fight,” Askren said. “He hasn’t been able to verbalize why I make him so upset, but for some reason I make him very, very, very upset. So for him it is personal. For me, I’m just going to go out there and fight.”
Speaking as a guest on the Joe Rogan podcast a few months ago, Masvidal shared he was irritated that Askren spoke of beating him during a training session, that it violated ‘man code’ since it was only training and should’ve remained in the gym.
“I was trying to antagonize Jorge and get him to fight with me–and it worked,” Askren said. “Maybe if it was one of my long-time teammates from the University of Missouri, I wouldn’t talk about it. But a guy that I knew for a week and I was trying to antagonize him into accepting a fight with me, of course I’m going to say that.”
While at Mizzou, Askren was a four-time All-American and won back-to-back national titles in 2006 and 2007. He finished with a record of 153–8, with 91 of those victories coming via pinfall. Askren remains close with many of his former teammates, including former UFC Welterweight champion Tyron Woodley. Since reuniting in the promotion, both fighters have had some fun playing off each other at their opponents expense, but it’s more about them being themselves then trying to create a storyline to sell a fight.
“I think that’s one thing that fighters in the UFC, specifically, are mistaken about right now,” Askren said. “When there’s a genuine beef, when people don’t like each other for whatever reason–like Jorge doesn’t like me. That’s kind of interesting. But the notion that we all have to hate each other in order to fight, I think that’s a falsehood. And I think people can tell when it’s preconceived, like it’s made up, or like it’s created out of thin air and there’s nothing really there. They can tell. And I don’t think that’s a good look.”
What is legitimate is that the winner of Askren vs. Masvidal will likely be in a position to challenge Kamaru Usman for the Welterweight title.
“Absolutely,” Askren agreed. “The winner of this fight, which is going to be me, is in a very, very good spot for a title shot against Marty Usman.”
“He’s another one that can’t really say why he doesn’t like me,” Askren continued. “I call him Marty–which that was his name for a solid decade or so while I knew him. He said that doesn’t make him upset. If that doesn’t make him upset, I didn’t say anything else that was even slightly offensive, so I don’t know what he could be offended about.”
Whether it’s smack talk or other mental games–or even a recent situation with a drunk fan badgering him in a hotel lobby, Askren has shown an ability to not let anything get to him. Has he always had that kind of mental toughness?
“That’s a deep question,” Askren said. “I think my dad always said ‘It’s all mental. It’s all mental.’ I don’t think he could’ve went really deep into that statement of what that means, but I remember at an early age never really being bothered too much by what other people said or did or whatever. I remember in high school when I was catching a lot of slack because of my hair or whatever. It would upset my mom and dad that people were talking badly way more than it upset me. I don’t really care. It didn’t bug me. They would say you need to cut your hair and I was like no, I’m not cutting my damn hair and I don’t care what people say. Even early on in my life, I never cared what people thought about me.”
But make no mistake, Askren does care about winning. And UFC 239 provides the next opportunity for him to do so.
photo credit: LowKickMMA.com; UFC