It is difficult for Ben Askren to pinpoint exactly with whom, and where, his inspiration lies. In fact, the ONE Welterweight World Champion is quick to say: “If I had the answer to that, I would be a billionaire.”
The 32-year-old American may not have a definitive clear-cut answer, but an amalgamation of factors led him to the wrestling mats and professional cage competition.
While many children were motivated to first pick up a basketball because of Michael Jordan, or kick a soccer ball because of David Beckham, Askren was a little different. Growing up in the Midwestern United States, a region traditionally known as a hotbed for amateur wrestling, he was motivated by the spirit of competition, and wanted to participate in a sport where he could be the master of his own fate.
In wrestling, he found just that.
“What really attracted me to wrestling was it was a one-on-one sport, and you make or break your destiny,” he says. “I did not like to let other people control my destiny. I wanted to be in control of my own destiny. I wanted it to be my fault if I won, or my fault if I lost, so I guess I had a hard time with other people having control over my outcomes.”
“Funky,” as he became known by, was a standout wrestler at Arrowhead High School. He was a two-time Wisconsin State Champion in 2000 and 2001.
Askren continued his success at the University Of Missouri, where he became a four-time All American, and a two-time NCAA Division I Champion, the highest accolade any grappler could achieve on the collegiate level. He capped off a stellar wrestling career by representing the United States in the 2008 Summer Olympic Games.
There may not be a single role model who stands out as an inspiration for Askren during his wrestling career, but he believes having a rock solid support system — comprised of family, friends, coaches, and teammates — helped contribute to his success.
“I cannot tell you if I did not have these people that it would turn out any different, because I do not know that. But I have to assume that having some really good coaches and parents that were really supportive truly helped my career as a wrestler flourish,” he admits. “It is just so much easier to accomplish goals when you have likeminded individuals, who have the same high goals and high expectations as yourself, around all the time.”
Askren had long planned switch to mixed martial arts and conquer that sport once he hung up his wrestling boots. Following his 2008 Olympic campaign, he made the transition, and has flawlessly translated his impeccable grappling skills into his growing skill set. The American has been perfect in competition, amassing a professional record of 16-0 with 1 No Contest en route to becoming the ONE Welterweight World Champion.
Though Askren still does not acknowledge having any role models, he has developed a deep level respect for the late Muhammad Ali. “Funky” considers him a personal hero of sorts, and admires many of the boxing legend’s characteristics.
“Obviously, he was a great competitor, but he also transcended the sport to a certain extent,” the champion begins. “He was never afraid to stand up and speak for what he believed in, and whether it was right or wrong, you have to appreciate that about somebody. He was able to be so consistent over such a long period of time, and win in so many different ways. I found his career very fascinating.”
In a lot of ways, the Wisconsin native has emulated Ali. Not only has Askren demolished his competition, but he is also not afraid to stand up for himself. He has developed a reputation for speaking his mind freely and quite bluntly, whether it hurts someone’s feelings or not.
Nowadays, not much has changed for Askren. He is still very much the same competitive person he was as a child, and the goal is the same. Simply put, it is to be as good as he can be at what he is doing.
“Funky” plans to show everyone just how good he is on Friday Night, 26 May, when he defends his ONE Welterweight World Championship against Sweden’s Zebaztian “The Bandit” Kadestam (9-3) at ONE CHAMPIONSHIP: SHANGHAI on Saturday, 2 September
But now, he also finds himself in the noble position of passing his knowledge onto other aspiring wrestlers, and that is something he does with a smile at the Askren Wrestling Academy.
“I got here because of the way people showed me, whether it was me reading about Muhammad Ali in a book, or because of other people in my life,” he says. “So now, if you get into one of these positions, you should feel as though it is your responsibility — and it is a very valuable responsibility — to pass those characteristics and lessons on to the next generation.”