ONE Welterweight World Champion Ben “Funky” Askren (16-0, 1 NC) is making a quick return to the cage, and that is just the way he likes it.
Three and a half months removed from his most recent victory, the 33-year-old American is scheduled to defend his coveted belt against top contender Zebaztian “The Bandit” Kadestam (9-3) at ONE CHAMPIONSHIP: SHANGHAI.
This main event, which will headline the promotion’s inaugural card in the Chinese metropolis, broadcasts live from the Shanghai Oriental Sports Center on Saturday, 2 September.
The seeds for this match were originally planted back in May.
Askren defended the title against then-undefeated Malaysian challenger Agilan “Alligator” Thani at ONE: DYNASTY OF HEROES. From the opening bell, the American put his Olympic wrestling pedigree to good use by taking his foe to the ground, controlling him from the top position, throwing ground strikes, and working submissions. Eventually, he secured a arm-triangle at the 2:20 mark of the first round.
“It went exactly as planned,” the unbeaten champ begins. “He struggled pretty hard and even got back to his feet once, but I think my ability to control people on the ground is pretty well-established. I got him down, dominated with strikes, and that led to the submission.”
Before that bout, however, Askren was warming up in his dressing room. While he was doing that, he watched the previous match featuring Kadestam and a familiar face in Luis “Sapo” Santos.
Although the Brazilian dominated Kadestam in the first two rounds of that contest, “The Bandit” cleverly bided his time until his opponent was exhausted. Once the third stanza hit, he promptly took his opportunity to strike. The Swede stuffed a takedown attempt and landed a trio of perfectly-placed knees, knocking Santos out and pulling off the upset.
That certainly got Askren’s attention, so much so that he called out Kadestam later that night.
“He is tough and he is durable, and that showed in the match with Santos,” the champion acknowledges. “He took some hard shots, but stayed in there and kept competing. Then, he was able to land the really big knee in the third round, which ended up finishing the match.”
That ultimately set the stage for an enticing main event on 2 September.
Unlike the Olympian’s previous opponents, however, Kadestam is armed with a dangerous striking game. The 26-year-old possesses a top-shelf Muay Thai skill set with knockout power, and the takedown defense to keep the match on the feet.
In light of all that, “Funky” is not taking his next title challenger for granted.
“I cannot get lackadaisical on him, and I cannot stop putting the pressure on, because obviously, he is really tough,” he begins. “He is big, he is strong, and he hits hard with both hands and knees. He is tough, he is durable, and he is going to stay in the match. He is not going to do something stupid and give it up easy and early. He is going to stick around until I put him out.”
Askren is planning to deploy his trademark strategy of relentless world-class wrestling to take his opponent down. Once on the ground, he expects to advance towards a more dominant position in hopes of securing a match-ending submission, or continuously dropping ground strikes until the referee stops the bout.
For the past eight years, dating back to his professional debut in February 2009, that unstoppable strategy has worked brilliantly for the Olympian, and he does not see any reason to stray from his strength. As he says, “Don’t fix what’s not broken.”
“I am really effective at what I do. I never made a secret of it, and I always played to my strengths, and that is something a lot of people get away from. They do not play to their strengths, and I always play to my strengths, and I have been very focused and determined on what I do. So far, it has worked out well.”
On 2 September, the world will see if the champ’s strategy will keep guiding him to success.