Bellator welterweight champion Ben Askren is an opinionated guy.
But when you're as talented as he is, having won multiple national titles in collegiate wrestling, making the United States Olympic team and being undefeated as a mixed martial artist, you can actually afford to be opinionated and people will respect what you have to say.
But along with that incredible wrestling talent, he's not afraid to humble himself day in and day out at Duke Roufus' gym in Milwaukee working his striking repeatedly from the ground up.
Fans were given a glimpse of his improving stand-up skills when he was able to hold his own with Jay Hieron for a bit on the feet in his first title defense last year, although he'll be the first to admit that he still has a long ways to go.
This fight night, (April 6, 2012) Askren will be defending his title for the second time when he battles season five tournament victor Douglas Lima at Bellator 64 in Windsor, Ontario, Canada in what expects to be his toughest test to date.
The "Funky" champion spoke with MMAmania.com during a special guest appearance on The Verbal Submission this past Sunday and he discussed his improving all-around skills, Jay Hieron not wanting to do another tournament and even Kurt Angle's publicity stunt of a 2012 Olympic bid.
Check it out:
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): It's fight week, you're fighting this Friday. How pumped are you to finally have Douglas Lima in your sights?
Ben Askren: Yeah, it's awesome. I've been training for a while since the last fight and it's more of a waiting game practicing than anything. I've been waiting to fight for a while now.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Yeah, I was told that in your last fight, you didn't have quite as much respect for Jay Hieron's power and that was one of the reasons you chose to stand and trade with him for a bit. Now Douglas Lima showcased some serious power in knocking out Chris Lozano and Ben Saunders to close out the tournament. Now was that the case with Hieron before and do you have more respect for Lima's power?
Ben Askren: Yeah, I think obviously Lima hits harder than Jay Hieron. That being said, knockouts are always possible no matter who you're fighting. I'm just excited to get in there. I've been training everywhere so wherever the fight goes I'll be comfortable. Obviously my strength is wrestling so yeah I'll probably take him down.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): I don't know if you had a chance to watch his brother Dhiego Lima lose against Nathan Coy at MFC but that seemed to be his issue as well. He stepped in there against a really good wrestler and he was undefeated at the time and he was concerned about the takedown so he got beat on the feet and on the ground. Do you think Douglas might be having the same issues, being so concerned about your takedowns that you could outstrike him on your feet for a bit?
Ben Askren: Yeah, I think that's definitely possible. I don't really have to respect his takedowns and he definitely has to respect mine. That's definitely something I could surprise him with.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Lima, obviously on the ground, I would say he's superior to Hieron on the ground with submissions. How much of a concern is his bottom game? I'm assuming you want to stay on top of him and he's got some good submissions off his back. How much have you really taken a look at him with his ability to attack off his back?
Ben Askren: That's definitely something I'm prepared for. He's a brown belt in jiu-jitsu and so am I. I'm a very difficult person to submit. I train under Marcelo Garcia and he doesn't and so if it goes to the ground, I'm ready for him to attack with submissions aggressively and it's something I'm ready to defend. There are no worries there.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): One of the interesting additions to Duke Roufus' team has been Pascal Krauss. Has it been helpful at all having a guy at your weight that's been training over there?
Ben Askren: Yeah, it's been awesome. Pascall is great at every position. Wrestling I would say would be the weakest of all of them but even then he's not bad. He's got really strong stand-up, his jiu-jitsu is good so he's been a really good training partner. I would expect him to totally dominate John Hathaway.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): So when you say that wrestling is probably his weakest and he's a pretty good submission fighter and a decent striker, do you feel like he could be a good replica of Douglas Lima when you guys are sparring together?
Ben Askren: Yeah, definitely. Yeah, I guess it would be a good mock of Douglas LIma and the other thing is once the fight's over, I'll be able to help him more with his wrestling so that's gonna pick up quickly and he's gonna be very dangerous come UFC: whatever the hell card he's fighting on...UFC on FOX.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You've been working with Duke Roufus for a while now. Have you really started to see noticeable improvements in your all-around game since you've been working there?
Ben Askren: Definitely my striking, which leads to improvements in my all-around game but my striking has gotten leaps and bounds better since I got here. There's not really a comparison.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): Your striking had to improve to even want to stand and trade with Jay Hieron for a little bit. You more than held your own and I actually gave you the first round of that fight which was entirely stand-up just because you were more aggressive and you were landing more. I've got to say, though, it was definitely an awkward style. Do you think it's kind of to your benefit that it's not a traditional stand-up style that you have?
Ben Askren: Yeah, a little bit to my advantage and obviously the better I get, the more quote on quote "traditional" I get. Yeah special sparring keeps people off guard, punches coming from odd angles and stuff and that's something that Douglas need to be worried about because I punch from a lot of weird angles so he's got to be on the lookout, a punch from an odd angle, a lot of hard right hands.
Ben Thapa: One of the things that struck me at the NCAA championships was seeing so many different styles of wrestling get their time in the spotlight. It's not always power doubles. There are wrestlers who had their own style and folkstyle tends to yield itself to its own individuality and I was wondering, how long does it take to develop that individuality?
Ben Askren: Uhhhh, tough question. Maybe your whole life? Yeah there are a lot of different styles of wrestling. There's many ways to skin a cat I would say and so you always see at the NCAA championships, you see the best guys in the nation going at it and you see a lot of different ways to get the job done.
Ben Thapa: And have you started to develop your own individual style in striking and submission grappling or is that still down the road? Where do you think you're at in terms of putting your own unique imprint on these pursuits?
Ben Askren: Yeah, I'm still focused on the basics. Duke Roufus always says you've got to know the rules to break the rules so I'm still trying to get all the rules of striking and hopefully soon I'll be able to break them also.
Gerry Rodriguez: Bellator has announced that with the move over to Spike, there will be more tournaments and then obviously more title defenses. Tell me how frustrating it's been to wait so long between title defenses?
Ben Askren: There's positives and negatives to it. They gave me the one superfight and obviously it's not a title defense but a fight's a fight. There's positives because I've gotten time to learn and get a lot better at what I do but at the same time, I only get money when I fight so that's the frustrating part of it, not being able to do your job so I would say there's positives and negatives to it.
Gerry Rodriguez: Now you and Chris Lozano talked trash on twitter and I don't know if you watched this past weekend but he lost. Did you get a chance to see his fight?
Ben Askren: Yeah, I saw it. The guy's been in the tournament three times and hasn't even made the finals yet. He's had the audacity to say anything just makes him sound like one of the fanboys on The Underground or something.
Gerry Rodriguez: Who's the more delusional guy in your opinion, Chris Lozano or Jay Hieron?
Ben Askren: I would say Jay is. He's so crazy he wouldn't even fight in this season's tournament. Your guess is as good as mine. They offered a spot to him and he said no, he only wants a rematch. In my opinion, you're a fighter. That is your profession, your job is to fight. Now you don't want to fight? That is crazy. Don't even start with me on that.
Gerry Rodriguez: I want to go further into this. Let's say you did lose your title at some point, would you be willing to go back into the tournament to get your title back?
Ben Askren: Yeah, I mean, whatever, that's my job. My job is to fight so I'm not gonna turn down fights and I'm not gonna act like I'm above anything. That's kind of ridiculous.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): You've said Georges St. Pierre does a great job of setting up his takedowns with his strikes. Now with the evolution of your striking game, do you think that will also improve your takedowns because you'll be able to set them up better?
Ben Askren: Yeah, 100 percent. I already feel the difference in practice so yeah.
Ben Askren: No. I'm realistic about my chances. I fight MMA full time. I don't have a chance to make the team.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): So you think those guys are kind of being delusional?
Ben Askren: I would say Kurt Angle more than Joe. At least Joe won a world championship in the last decade. Kurt Angle hasn't been on the map since 1996. I think ti's a publicity stunt in my opinion. We'll see.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): One last question I've got, it's about Demian Maia. Now when he entered the UFC, he was this incredible world class jiu-jitsu player and people were in awe of it but then he got knocked out and he focused on everything else and in my opinion, he let the rest of his skills, his submission skills, deteriorate a little bit. Now in your focus on improving your other skills, have you felt that your wrestling has deteriorated a bit because you're not training it as hard as you used to or do you train your wrestling just as hard as before to keep those skills up?
Ben Askren: Well obviously i can't train it as hard as before because I''d be training wrestling twice a day and I wouldn't have any time for anything else. I didn't train any wrestling for my last fight and I definitely felt the difference so I started working out with the college team just to kind of stay sharp and that helped out a lot.
Brian Hemminger (MMAmania.com): When you visualize success against Douglas Lima, what do you picture?
Ben Askren: I've pictured a lot of different things. Everybody says there's a lot of different ways you can win the fight and I'm not sure which way it'll be but I'm just really excited to get back in the cage and fight again.
Ben would like to thank his sponsors Everlast, Oak Grove and the wrestling crew. You can follow him on Twitter @BenAskren.
So what do you think, Maniacs?
Will Askren's wrestling be enough to make up for Douglas Lima's dangerous submissions and striking skills? With Kurt Angle's recent "hamstring injury," do you feel Askren had a point about his Olympic bid?
To listen to the complete audio of our interview with Ben Askren, click here (begins at 1:03:00 mark).