Touted as one of MMA’s top prospects, collegiate wrestling standout Ben Askren will make his Bellator debut against Ryan Thomas as he begins his journey to greatness. The 2008 Olympian boasts a 3-0 record – with all three of his fights ending in under 90 seconds – heading into the opening round of the tournament where the winner faces champion Lyman Good. With so many eyes on Askren to see if he can live up to the hype, one has to wonder why he chose Bellator over StrikeForce or UFC.
“They gave me a great offer at the right time,” Askren says. “Nobody else could offer what they did. I think they’re going to make me a household name and I’ll be doing the same for them.”
One thing that Askren is not short on is confidence. One look at his collegiate wrestling career confirms that. He finished his career at the University of Missouri with a 153-8 record, with 91 of those victories coming by way of fall. The 91 pins places him third all-time on the NCAA Division I pins list. He’s also a four-time All American and was nominated for an ESPY in 2007 in the category of Best Male College Athlete.
But we all know that MMA is a different beast altogether. A beast that Askren feels he has the credentials to tame. “To be an elite fighter you have to be able to do everything,” Askren explains. Sure, his wrestling is top notch. But he is also a purple belt in jiu-jitsu and has been working heavily on his standup game. “I think my jiu-jitsu is nothing to be sneezed at,” he says after discussing his wrestling background. “Along with wrestling, I’m really good with submissions so that makes me even more dangerous. I really think I can control all of these guys in the tournament. I’m pretty confident that I’ll be able to take them all down and submit them.”
As he prepares for former UFC fighter Ryan Thomas, most may not know that Askren was married in Kansas City this past Friday. Although it is one of the biggest events of his life, the two-time NCAA champion hasn’t allowed it to get in the way of his focus.
“The wedding was planned before the fight. I wasn’t going to change that because I knew I could do both at once,” he says while joking that this fight is his honeymoon. “I trained the day before my wedding and the day after.” Even with Thomas’ UFC experience, Askren isn’t concerned at all with his opponent. “His UFC experience didn’t teach him much,” he says in regards to Thomas’ two armbar losses in the UFC. “I don’t think he’s fought anyone that’s good. I question the skills of his opponents.”
The one thing that shouldn’t be questioned is Askren’s assurance that Thursday night will be bad for Thomas. “I can ground and pound you, I can submit you, so you better be scared when the fight hits the ground,” he boasts. “I’m not trying to say he’s a bum, but I’m going to make Ryan Thomas look real bad.” When asked for a prediction, Askren wasted little time responding with a very matter-of-fact tone.
“I’m going to choke him out.”