No one can say undefeated Bellator welterweight champion Ben Askren wasn't opinionated.
But when you're as talented and dominant of a wrestler as he is, you've more than earned the right to speak your mind on a wide range of issues.
Askren was a four-time NCAA Division I All-American and two-time national champion freestyle wrestler at the University of Missouri and represented the United States at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. Just six months after the Olympics, Askren was making his professional debut in mixed martial arts and just 20 months later, he used his "funky" wrestling style to defeat Lyman Good and become Bellator's welterweight champion.
The Roufusport fighter spoke with Matt Bishop and myself during an appearance on Bloody Elbow Radio last Thursday and he discussed a wide range of topics from Jay Hieron's credentials, wrestling in MMA and why he feels his bout with "The Thoroughbred" will be a "drubbing."
Matt Bishop: How excited are you for this fight? Like you said, you last fought in April so are you itching and ready to go?
Ben Askren: Definitely, I'm very excited. I'm at Roufusport now, I started a whole new camp, a whole new group of guys to work with and it's been great up here so I'm really excited to get back in there.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I've talked to a lot of the guys from the Roufusport gym and they've been heaping tons of praise on you for all the help that you've been able to give them in their wrestling. Is that a hand-in-hand thing where you're helping all of them in the wrestling and those guys are helping you with all the other facets of your game?
Ben Askren: Well it definitely helps. That was one of the things that they really lacked, kind of when I got here was they didn't have a strong wrestling base at all. Most of them were pretty good at jiu-jitsu and obviously they have really, really, really strong stand-up but they're lacking in wrestling. I kinda think it was something I was able to help with and you saw Anthony Pettis, he improved in his fight against Jeremy Stephens and then Erik Koch was able to keep it standing the entire time against Jonathan Brookins and then Alan was able to, when Jason MacDonald was trying to take him down, he was able to land on top and finish with ground and pound there so yeah it's been great.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Yeah, you've done a terrific job with that and it almost seems like bringing up your name with any of the welterweight contenders it sparks a huge debate. They talk about how great you are at wrestling and then they complain about the fighting style. I appreciate it. Do you feel like you're misunderstood as the champion?
Ben Askren: Not at all. I mean, people expect me, just because I can win, they expect me to be exciting. You can debate that all my wins have been decisive. I haven't lost a round I think ever and I don't finish people but I've wrestled my whole life and I only started jiu-jitsu two and a half, three years ago. I started striking two years ago so how good would I really be able to get in the short periods of time? I'm fighting good people. It's not like I'm fighting "Joe Schmos," starting off my first day fighting. My fourth fight, I was in Bellator fighting very good people. In my mind I'm a work in progress and I will start finishing more people, it's just a matter of time.
Matt Bishop: Ben, do you kind of feel like nobody is giving you a reason to go away from your wrestling right now? Nobody is really challenging you and making you do something else.
Ben Askren: Why would I? I'm that good at it and no one's stopping me. Why would I change it? It's like saying Anderson Silva should learn takedowns in order to go to the ground. If someone said that, you'd say, "That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard!" That's really what people are saying to me. It sounds ridiculous when you phrase it that way but at the same time, I know I'm not a complete mixed martial artist. I'm a work in progress. That's why I moved to Roufusport to get more complete but I will never go away from my wrestling roots and Duke knows that. Duke's been training kickboxing and boxing for 30 years. If I started teaching him wrestling, how long would it be until he was a high level wrestler? A long, long time and I feel the same way about myself. I'm gonna try to get better striking but how long is it gonna take for me to be an elite level striker? It's gonna be a long time.
Matt Bishop: You bring up Anderson Silva. Do you feel that there's a double standard against wrestlers? I've felt this way for a long time. It's like, Anderson Silva sprawls and tries to keep it on the feet and nobody criticizes him for that but when you want to take the fight to the ground where you're at your best advantage and everybody is getting on your back for it.
Ben Askren: That's fine, that's people's nature. They want to see those standing brawls. I love seeing Anderson Silva kick people in the face too. I'm not saying he should take anyone to the ground. I love seeing him do what he's best at but at the same time, when people expect me to go away from what I'm best at, I just think that's kind of silly.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Going off of that, though. With all this work that you've done with Roufusport, where do you really feel that you've been able to improve the most so far? Is is the submission? Is it the transitions? Is it your striking?
Ben Askren: Well I feel like I was a pretty good grappler when I came to Duke's place. I was already a brown belt. I'm still a brown belt. I think I've got a little better. We've got a pretty good coach up here, Joao Zeferino and I've actually gotten a lot better at leglocks on the ground but besides that, I had a really good base coming in here and then most of my work has been standing. Most of my improvements have been in the stand-up department. We've got such good coaches up here, good training partners obviously with Anthony and you just had Danny on your show and Alan and Erik Koch. Working with those guys all the time, it's good.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Yeah and you've worked around with a lot of other guys too. I've seen videos of you getting brought in to work with Jake Shields before his title fight with Georges St. Pierre. I've seen you work with Marcelo Garcia, do you travel around the country and work other people often?
Ben Askren: Well, that was more a byproduct of me traveling. I travel a lot for wrestling clinics and stuff and I like to workout also so I try to not miss many workouts so I always look someone up wherever I'm going and try to get it in.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Are you expecting that Jay Hieron's wrestling is going to get overwhelmed in this fight? He was a pretty competent wrestler, I think a national champion in junior college.
Ben Askren: Yeah he was a national champion in junior college but Jay is significantly overrating his wrestling ability. What you have to realize is that people who win national junior college tournaments, I pin them in 30 seconds. That's no big deal. I mean, even at the highest, highest level at the NCAA tournament my senior year, in five matches I probably got 40 takedowns and that's against the best of the best of the best guys in the Unites States in wrestling and Jay was never on that level and if you think in five matches I probably got close to 40 takedowns, someone below that level, how easy it would be for me to take them down. That's how I think about it.
Matt Bishop: Ben, do you feel like there is kind of a disconnect in terms of public perception, you say, Jay Hieron was a national champion in junior college, but you're an NCAA champion Division I. Do you think people just don't get the gap in the level there?
Ben Askren: I think the highly educated people get it. When you've got people like me or Daniel Cormier who was an amazing wrestler also or Mo Lawal, when you've got people on that really, really high level, it's a totally different level than say a state champ or even a junior college national champ or anything like that.
Matt Bishop: To me, this is the biggest fight in the history of Bellator. Would you agree with that?
Ben Askren: I'd have to think about it for a while, but sure, why not?
Matt Bishop: You and Jay have kind of had a war of words going on ever since he won the welterweight tournament back in May. What exactly started that and can you kind of take us through the feud for lack of better words that you two have had?
Ben Askren: I think it started at the press conference. We fought on the same day in Oklahoma when I fought Nick Thompson, he won against Brent Weedman that day and he was just kind of abrasive. That's just his personality which I can defend. I'm not too much different than that but he kinda rubbed me the wrong way in the press conference.
Matt Bishop: It's kinda played out on twitter since then and you two have been going back and forth. Do you really feel disrespected by Jay Hieron?
Ben Askren: I don't personally feel disrespected at all. I just think he's one of those kinds of people who thinks their shit doesn't stink and those kind of people really bother me. Hopefully I'll take him down a few pegs next week.
Matt Bishop: What are some of your goals for after the Jay Hieron fight? Who would you like to fight in superfights, perhaps a move to the UFC, et cetera?
Ben Askren: Well I don't care who I fight at all. Obviously my next fight will be the winner of the Douglas Lima / Ben Saunders fight but my number one goal and my only goal when I came into fighting was to see if I could be the best in the world at it and once I determine the answer to that, I'd be done fighting. That still remains as my goal.
Matt Bishop: Let's play a hypothetical game here. Let's say you move on, you go to the UFC and you win the UFC welterweight title. That would mean, in most people's minds, winning the UFC title means you're the best in the world. Would you just then quit? Your done?
Ben Askren: I might defend it once or twice just to prove it. Everyone can get lucky every once in a while, you could say Matt Serra (laughs) and win the belt but you've got to defend it a couple times just to show people that it wasn't luck. But yeah, say I won the belt and defended it a few times and I was consensus number one, I really feel like I've got nothing else left to prove and it's my time to move on.
Matt Bishop: Jay Hieron next weekend, MTV2 next Saturday at 9 p.m. eastern time, you defend your welterweight title. What type of fight should the fans tuning in to watch that night expect?
Ben Askren: I think it's gonna be a drubbing. I'm gonna take him down. I'm gonna beat him up. I'm gonna maul him. I'm gonna do pretty much whatever I want. That's really how I feel it's gonna go.
So what do you think, Maniacs?
Will Askren back up his talk and maul Jay Hieron this Saturday night at Bellator 56? Do you think he has a point about the flack he receives for his fighting style?