The MMA community is a mixed bag. It is filled to the brim with some of the most eccentric rebels and thoughtful barbarians to date. It has a perfectly balanced population of talking heads who are equally informed and oblivious when it comes to the many complexities and intricacies of each discipline that as a whole make MMA exactly that; Mixed Martial Arts.
The boxer can watch a fight and notice where the feet are planted and how one fighter’s hips are positioned that will give away a punch, while the jiu-jitsu player will view the same exact sequence and might as well be on Mars.
Each discipline is a sport in and of itself, living in its own silo. There is no striking in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. There is no touching of legs in Boxing. There are no gloves in BJJ. There are no gis in boxing. The paradox goes on and on with any two disciplines.
Then, MMA has taken each of these separate disciplines and thrown them into a cauldron of savagery, forcing each to live side by side with its peers. While getting mainstream attention, most for the first time, they have jockeyed for the title of superior discipline over the last 25 years. Thank god, too. It’s laid to rest the fighting equivalent of the Jordan-LeBron debate ten times over.
What is so beautiful about MMA is it forces athletes to expand their knowledge base across multiple disciplines, undoubtedly applying techniques and theories from their original discipline to see if there is a new way to attack an old problem in the new world they just dove headfirst into. There is a humbling force in combat sports that only those who willingly set their ego aside to learn, day in and day out, can truly understand. Risking embarrassment and personal pride to become a small fish in a big pond. Working every day, trials and tribulations galore, and eventually becoming a big fish in a small pond. For some, it takes a lifetime to do it once.
For these athletes, most do it three, four, five times over.
Every sport is nuanced and complex. But no sport is the combination of multiple sports that hold distinction on the Olympic level and allow it to all mix together.
The fan sitting at home in his man cave with a Modelo in one hand and… another Modelo in the other, can decipher a few factors of distinction between themselves and these athletes on their own. Even if they never stepped foot into a boxing ring, wrestling mat, or combat environment of any kind. Undoubtedly, the most obvious factor that can be discerned is simple: these athletes are the epitome of physical physique.
These men and women are Roman gladiators displaced in the 21st century moonlighting as cologne models and fitted T-shirt influencers. These men and women who literally fight in a locked cage for a living are full of testosterone and equipped with legal weapons that would undoubtedly strike fear into any internet troll’s cholesterol-filled heart due to the fighter’s pure physical intimidation and seemingly-negative percent body fat.
And then there’s this guy:
Undefeated in the Octagon. Undefeated on the internet. Undefeated in the bread aisle.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Ben Askren.
Ben Askren is a wildly talent mixed martial artist. He is a 4x NCAA finalist, 2x D1 national champion wrestler, and Hodge trophy winner (the wrestling equivalent of the Heisman) at the University of Missouri. He is now 19-0-1 in MMA with 12 finishes. He looks like one of a kind and talks like one of a kind. So I guess he is, one of a kind.
Askren has engaged the depths of the MMA-verse with a seemingly-daily segment across social media where he “roasts” fighters with pungent wit cutting right to their deep-seated insecurities. He talks, acts, and – according to current UFC Welterweight champion Kamaru Usman – looks like the trolls of the internet:
On the Joe Rogan Experience, a podcast that holds the high honor of being dubbed “Oprah For Men”, Usman joked “Ben is a representative of the trolls! Most of the trolls look like Ben Askren!”
That is a brutally true – and equally hilarious thing to say.
Askren is oddly the exact opposite of what many of the UFC stalwarts appear to be. He could just as easily be licking residue off his Cheeto-fingers and wiping the excess on a faded high school gym shirt he’s been wearing for three days while asking one simple question through his Turtle Beaches: “Where we droppin’, boys?”
Instead, he’s bulldog-choking the head off of trained killers and frustrating Dana White in public encounter after public encounter.
If that body can go 19-0-1 in professional MMA, I have think it’s time to call off the dogs and give the title of superior discipline to wrestling. Right?
I have to say, by no means is he “out of shape” on any average metric. But in wrestling, and Mixed Martial Arts, there is truly a different standard. A standard in which he deviates from in the most drastic sense.
His counterparts are chopping down trees with bare shins and kicking Body Armor bottles off of their trainer’s heads. Meanwhile, it looks like he might have trouble touching his toes while stretching!
Ben is truly one of the most polarizing figures in MMA. He has carved out a career with a brutally monotonous style. Sludging forward and eating shots until he can drag his opponent to the ground and smother them with constant pressure for 15 minutes until they wither away into the loser’s column.
It’s been labeled as boring, and many internet pundits believe that is why it has taken so long for Dana to get him into the UFC. But alas, the fans finally have what they want.
Ben Askren on the mic – in public – in front of a camera – that “Curly Headed Fook” is gold. Pure Gold.
He is 99% wrestler and 100% Funky. He is possibly a unicorn.
He is also likely a fight or two away from a title shot. I just can’t help but wonder, if he laid off the fried chicken and Coke for a week, would he be a 145-pound lean mean talking and fighting machine? We’ll likely never know, as rumor has it he has been tied to a Jorge Masvidal fight next, so he just might get another serving of a 3 piece and a soda.
Jump to 9:45. I can’t wait.