ONE Championship’s all-conquering Welterweight World Champion Ben “Funky” Askren has built a remarkable legacy in a field that demands constant evolution from its athletes.
Askren brings the curtain down on his stellar martial arts career on Friday, 24 November, when he takes on Japanese legend Shinya Aoki in the main event of ONE: IMMORTAL PURSUIT in Singapore.
The American was in retrospective mood when we spoke to him ahead of his final battle before hanging up the gloves for good.
“Life is a competition,” he told us. “Everything in life is a competition.”
When it comes to being successful in competition, Askren has been there and done that.
A two-time NCAA Division I Champion for the University of Missouri and a US team member at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, Askren has been operating at the very apex of his chosen vocation since his early 20s.
Over a stellar sporting career, he’s learned that the skills and attributes he’s picked up along the way aren’t limited to the sporting realm. Far from it, in fact.
“All skills are transferable,” he explained. “Work ethic, discipline, persistence, ingenuity — all those skills are directly transferable. I transferred them from wrestling to martial arts, and I am currently transferring them to the rest of my life. I try to compete at everything I do in life.”
Now 33 years of age, Askren heads into his final martial arts bout with an umblemished 18-bout professional record, with the defining highlight being the ONE Welterweight World Title, a championship he’ll defend for the final time in his second home of Singapore, where he trains at the acclaimed Evolve MMA.
While Askren is winding down his competitive career inside the cage, he certainly isn’t planning on walking away from martial arts completely after his final bout. He already has the Askren Wrestling Academy, a venture launched with his younger brother and fellow NCAA Division I champion Max, to offer an elite grappling school for the nation’s best wrestlers.
It’s proved a roaring success. This past year, the school’s three locations helped to produce six high school state champions, 14 youth state champions, and three top-four finishes in one of the most challenging tournaments in the US.
“There are so many kids who do not believe in themselves, whether it is in their ability to win, their ability to work hard, or their abilities to overcome difficulties or adversity,” Askren says.
“So when they finally believe in themselves and realise they are strong enough to do it, that is what I get the most satisfaction out of.”
Askren is also using the experiences and lessons picked up over his own remarkable career to advise and support aspiring martial artists, as well as mentor and guide young athletes who are looking to embark on their own careers in competitive martial arts.
“There are so many athletes who, once they get done with their athletic career, have absolutely no idea what they want to do in their life. And I mean none,” Askren explains.
“I tell anyone who listens to me, when you think you have about two or three years left, when you start seeing the end, then start figuring out what you are going to do in your life.
“For a lot of people, it is teaching jiu-jitsu, wrestling, or kickboxing. That is probably a good option for a lot of people. There are lots of things people can do, but you have to have something you want to do and are willing to go after following your athletic career.”
Askren has always been an athlete who has taken an intelligent approach to his career, and as he prepares to make the walk to the ONE Championship cage for the last time, one thing is sure.
It won’t be the last time we see or hear from the man they call “Funky,” as he is set to take up an executive position in ONE Championship. Whatever the role entails, it’s a sure bet he’ll continue his lifelong pursuit of excellence in it.