When longtime ONE Championship welterweight champion Ben Askren signed a contract extension with the Asia-based promotion at the end of 2015, he told his friends and family it would be his last.
By the end of 2017, his fighting days will be over.
Now just two months away from his final trip to the cage, Askren is trying to write the perfect ending – a professional MMA career of 18-0 – and set up his future.
“You have to be accepting of everything you’ve accomplished up to that point and accept that there’s a time to retire and move on to other pursuits in my life,” Askren (18-0) told MMAjunkie during a conference call in support of his career-ending fight against Shinya Aoki (39-7) at “ONE: Immortal Pursuit,” which takes place Nov. 24 at Singapore Indoor Stadium.
Askren, a two-time NCAA wrestling champ and former Bellator titleholder, doesn’t plan to stray too far from his core competency. He will coach wrestlers at his academy in Wisconsin. He expects to go to work for his promoter, first as a matchmaker and then as a marketer and manager.
“I’m excited and eager to jump at any task they throw my way,” Askren said. “But first and foremost, I’ve got to finish my career right.”
Askren didn’t feel as certain about his expiration date at 30, one month before he won the ONE title. At 33, though, he has no doubt his decision to step away from the cage is the right one. The physical demands no longer provide much allure.
“I used to love going in the gym every single day,” he said. “I used to be passionate about it. I couldn’t wait. There was nothing I was more excited for. And now, I frickin’ hate it.
“I’m disciplined enough to still do it. I’m disciplined to get up two times a day and go to the gym every day and not miss a workout. But I don’t like it any more. So I know it’s my time.”
Askren didn’t want to become another athlete who’d hung on too long, particularly in a sport where that choice could lead to serious injury. Plus, he wants to be a better parent and husband, and he can’t do that if he’s training and fighting full-time.
“I’m taking time out of those things, which I thoroughly enjoy, to be selfish about my own training and making sure I’m the best I can be,” he said.
One month after his final fight in Singapore, he’ll welcome his third child. Being the world’s best dad will be right next to being the world’s best MMA executive on his list of post-career goals.
A behind-the-scenes role is not entirely new for Askren. When he couldn’t find an opponent to compete against for his professional debut in 2009, he and a few buddies decided to start their own MMA promotion, Headhunter Productions. At a Holiday Inn a stone’s throw from his alma mater at the University of Missouri, he stopped his opponent in less than 2 minutes. Another Mizzou alum and Askren teammate made his debut that night: Tyron Woodley.
ONE Championship, which boasts a broadcast reach of one billion potential viewers, is obviously on a much bigger scale. But Askren expects his hard work will shorten his learning curve.
“Whatever I’ve taken to, I’ve had success at,” Askren said. “And I think it’s because I’m so disciplined and determined in what I do.”
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