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UFC 239 card: Ben Askren vs Jorge Masvidal full fight preview

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MMA: UFC 235-Lawler vs Askren Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Welterweight rivals Ben Askren and Jorge Masvidal will throw down this Saturday (July 6, 2019) at UFC 239 from inside T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada.

It’s hard to make heads-or-tails of Askren’s Octagon debut. On one hand, the Olympian did showcase serious grit and grappling to rally, but he was also dumped on his face and essentially knocked out in the opening minute. Though it will technically go down as a win, this is really another chance at a first impression. Masvidal, meanwhile, has been a top-level fighter years and years now, but “Gamebred” has yet to capture a world title. Fresh off a brutal knockout win over Darren Till, upsetting Askren would serve as a perfect catapult into title contention for the South Florida native.

Let’s take a closer look at the keys to victory for each man:

Ben Askren

Record: 19-0 (1)
Key Wins: Robbie Lawler (UFC 235), Douglas Lima (Bellator 64), Andrey Koreshkov (Bellator 97), Shinya Aoki (One Championship 64)
Key Losses: None
Keys to Victory: There is no mystery or subtlety to Askren’s gameplan: the wrestler intends to wrestle. While he’s integrated Brazilian jiu-jitsu and submissions into his game wonderfully, Askren is still relatively hopeless in the realm of kickboxing.

There’s no question that Askren will dive toward Masvidal’s legs at the first opportunity, but are there any major adjustments he needs to make for “Gamebred?” In truth, probably not — Askren is either going to be able to consistently take down Masvidal and win dominantly, or he’s going to get absolutely battered.

Realistically, Askren does have to be a bit more aware of his position than he showed opposite Lawler. Masvidal’s front chokes are nasty, and while it seems unlikely that Askren would be submitted, a tight choke could force him to release the leg and wind up back in Masvidal’s world.

Jorge Masvidal

Record: 33-13
Key Wins: Darren Till (UFC Fight Night 147), Donald Cerrone (UFC on FOX 23), Tim Means (UFC on FOX 7), James Krause (UFC 178)
Key Losses: Demian Maia (UFC 211), Stephen Thompson (UFC 217), Benson Henderson (UFC Fight Night 79)
Keys to Victory: Masvidal is a very technical fighter in every area of the game. He prefers to strike and seems to carry significantly more knockout power at 170 pounds, but Masvidal is a tricky grappler who has out-wrestled plenty of his foes as well.

There are two paths to defeating a focused grinder like Askren. Lawler attempted one: simply trying to destroy his foe at the first opportunity, and it worked to some degree. Masvidal seems more suited to the second option, which involves more patience and technique to slowly break down the wrestler.

Luckily, Masvidal already has a great jab, but it’s pivotal he stick the jab and move his feet immediately afterward. Otherwise, Askren will eat the punch and run into the clinch. Jab and move has to be the plan for Masvidal’s first few exchanges with Askren, as that’s when “Funky” really tends to rush forward and force the wrestling.

If Masvidal can avoid a few of the early shots, Askren will likely hang back and look to time his shot better. At that point, Masvidal should first be looking to shred the calf or shoot a snap kick into the belly — damaging strikes that are difficult to catch. The more jabs, low kicks, and body shots that Masvidal lands, the slower and less effective the next shot of Askren will be.

Bottom Line: Depending on the outcome of Colby Covington vs. Robbie Lawler, this could be a title eliminator.

If Covington defeats Lawler, he should finally receive his long-awaited title shot — it makes sense and is the biggest fight available. If he loses, though? Askren has been talking nonstop about a title shot since his pal Woodley lost the strap, and defeating Masvidal would be a solid enough feather in his cap to justify the opportunity. Masvidal is fresh off a massive win himself, so a second big victory could see him earn a title shot, too.

At worst, the winner is set up for a title eliminator, possibly with the winner of Leon Edwards vs. Rafael dos Anjos.

With so much to gain on the line, there are obvious consequences with defeat. For Askren, a big part of his appeal is his undefeated record and trash talk, but a loss ruins the former and makes the latter less interesting. Masvidal is in an even more perilous position, as he only just recently returned to the win column — a loss could push him out of title contention entirely.

At UFC 239, Ben Askren and Jorge Masvidal will go to war. Which man will have his hand raised?