"Shy and retiring" is not a description that immediately springs to mind when discussing undefeated welterweight Ben Askren. The two-time NCAA Division-1 wrestling champion is never short of an incendiary opinion (or two), so it should be no surprise that he has some strong words for Luis Santos.
Askren's first fight with the Brazilian ended in a "no contest" and the rematch is set for ONE: "Pride of Lions" this Friday night (Nov. 13) in Singapore. The two men have spent less than three minutes inside the cage together, but it was enough time to throw up several months worth of talking points.
The first topic of controversy was the eye poke itself. Santos is adamant that it was intentional, but Askren believes his opponent milked the incident for all it was worth.
"I'm pretty sure Sapo was lying about it. I could tell he was getting tired, he was looking for a way to get out of the fight. At the very worst I barely grazed him. I mean, how many eye pokes do we see in MMA fighting? It just happens, it's part of the sport."
Askren is also irate over the suggestion that he intentionally thrust his fingers towards the Brazilian's eye area.
"If I could have poked him in the eye I would have punched him in the eye. If I was accurate enough to put my finger in his eye, I would put my fist in his eye and be done with it."
There is no denying that Santos far surpassed people's expectations in the two minutes and 19 seconds he spent fighting Askren. The Brazilian holds black belts in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) and Judo as well as being one of the most feared strikers in the MMA game, but such is the champion's aura of invincibility that practically no one expected "Sapo" to pose him any problems.
It was something of a shock when Santos was able to stuff takedown after takedown but Askren isn't reading too much into what happened in the early exchanges,
"How was I exposed? I didnt get hit. A guy stopped my takedowns for two minutes, that doesnt win you a fight, that makes you someone who stayed in the fight for two minutes."
In that respect, Santos did at least do better than Askren's previous opponent. Nobutatsu Suzuki lasted less than two minutes and the undefeated American has not gone the distance since 2012. His results have been entirely consistent but there is no question that the performances of the collegiate wrestling standout have improved as his career has progressed.
It makes the "no contest" harder to digest and Askren is still angry at Santos for putting the closest thing there is to a blemish on his perfect professional record.
"I was very disappointed because I've never stepped in the cage and not got my hand raised. He gave it his best shot and it didn't have an effect. I wasn't scared of him so he said, 'Alright, maybe I'll give this another shot next time.'"
While Askren is confident he will beat Santos, the 31-year-old champ has been leaving nothing to chance in his preparation. He's already in Singapore training at Evolve MMA and working hard to ensure he can end the rematch in a more decisive manner.
"Santos is known for his striking and he does a lot of kicking, but I love coming to Evolve because they have so many different awesome Muay Thai trainers and no matter who I go with, I always learn something. They are the best of the best."
Askren is widely regarded as the best wrestler in the sport, but he's had a chance to pick up some tips from one of the most successful submission fighters in MMA history.
"I've been training with Shinya (Aoki) and he is always fun to train with. His style is so unique that it is fun to try to pick up on the small things he does differently than other people that makes his style so effective."
Askren is well within his rights to point out that despite starting the first fight strongly, Santos never really caused any serious damage, let alone coming close to securing a stoppage. But it does seem the Brazilian succeeded in getting under his skin and the undefeated American has a point to prove on November 13.
"Luis Santos has never been on my level, he's not on my level and I'm going to make sure everybody knows that."