Former Bellator MMA Welterweight Champion and current ONE Fighting Championship Welterweight Champion Ben "Funky" Askren is set to retire from mixed martial arts competition after he puts his ONE FC Welterweight Championship on the line one last time against the dangerous Japanese star Shinya Aoki at the upcoming ONE FC event on November 24.
The 33-year-old Askren was an Olympic amateur wrestler and current holds a professional MMA record of 17-0 with one no-contest. He has successfully defended the ONE FC Welterweight Championship on three occasions.
Askren talked about his decision to retire on The MMA Hour:
“The first reason is because nobody retires in time,” Askren said Tuesday on The MMA Hour. “I mean, you think about who retires during their prime, the number of athletes who do that in any sport is very small. And obviously a sport like golf, where you see Tiger Woods fall off — well, there’s not really too much damage he could take from that, right? Although when you watch him and he sucks, and you’re like, ‘God, he used to be so good, but you suck now,’ it’s kind of disconcerting as a fan, right? But then you look at someone like Muhammad Ali, who was literally my favorite athlete of all-time. The punishment he took from sticking around too long past his prime, man, I would have to say — we can’t prove it, but I’d have to say we could guess it led to a lot of the problems that he had later in his life.
“So we’re in a combat sport, it’s dangerous, and I am definitely not physically at the peak I was, say, four to five years ago. And you know, it’s a slippery slope, because can I still compete with the best in the world? Yeah, of course I can. But you start getting a little worse and a little worse, a little worse. When is that cutoff?
“Then the No. 2 reason will be, if you’re competing right, if you’re doing it right, competition should be a very selfish pursuit,” Askren continued. “When I was younger, [I would read] athletes’ biographies, I always said I would be done by the time I was 30, because I wanted to be able to give back. I thought I would be coaching, and I am, and I thought I would be a parent, and I am. And there’s a lot of things that I have to do. For example, I didn’t coach anyone for about the last six weeks before my fight at AWA, because this is my time, I need to get ready. And there’s things I miss out in my kids’ life, because this is my time, I have to get ready. So, I guess those are the two main reasons that I kind of set an expiration date for myself.
“The plan when I was younger was (to retire at) 30. I always said 30,” Askren said. “That was the number that I picked, that’s a good number. Honestly, MMA people have kind of gotten confused about how long people should last because of how many people are using PEDs, and obviously that extends male athletes’ peaks. A male athlete’s peak, I believe, should be somewhere between 26 and 30. If we use those PEDs, we can extend it significantly, and that was what MMA fans got used to.
“But being a guy who does not use any of that stuff, like I said, I’m not the same guy I was at 28 physically. Now, technically I’ve gotten better, because I haven’t been doing this MMA thing that long. But physically, I have definitely gotten worse. I’ve passed my peak. And so, when I re-signed my contract with ONE Championship two years ago, I told them straight up, ‘I’m done. At the end of 2017, I’m done.’ Initially, like I said, I thought it was going to be 30. (But) 33, that’s it.
“Young guys kind of have this chip on their shoulder of, ‘I want to prove something,’ right? ‘I’ve got to prove how tough I am. I’ve got to prove how good I am.’ And man, now as I’m getting older, I think it’s almost sad when guys my age and older still have that chip on their shoulder,” Askren said. “It’s like almost embarrassing. It’s like, hey, I’ve done what I could do, I’ve accomplished a lot, and now this, especially with wrestling — if this next generation wants to pass me up, great job. Good for them.
“Like, we just had the 2017 U.S. freestyle world team win the world championship for our country, and seeing all those guys have success, kind of passing what I did, man, I was so proud of them. And so I don’t feel like I have that chip on my shoulder anymore, and I haven’t had it for awhile, that chip on my shoulder, ‘I’ve got to prove myself, I’ve got to show people how tough I am,’ where I might’ve had that when I was a younger guy. I almost see that as a detriment, if I still have that at 33, to my life.
“There would be one, and only one, way I would ever come back for another fight: if it was for the No. 1 spot in the world,” Askren said. “Not two, not three, not four, not five. None of those spots. Against the No. 1 guy in the world. And then obviously the second part of that would be (if) his name is not Tyron Woodley, because I have no interest in fighting Tyron. He’s a very good friend of mine So, if for some reason the No. 1 person’s name was not Tyron Woodley, and I got offered a fight against No. 1, I would come back to prove I was No. 1. But other than that, I’m retired. I don’t need to prove come back and prove I’m two or three or four, anywhere in there. I’ll be done.
“I don’t think I’ll ever come back,” Askren said. “I’ve been pretty disciplined. When I say something, I generally stick to it, no matter what it is in life. I would (still) like to compete in some form, just because I enjoy competing, number one, but number two, to stay in shape. Maybe a couple of grappling competitions a year. Maybe a couple of wrestling matches here and there. Something like that, because I know I’ll miss competing, but something where I [don’t] necessarily feel like I have to be the best in the world at it, right? Something where I don’t have to be totally selfish.”
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