Reigning ONE Welterweight World Champion Ben “Funky” Askren (17-0, 1 NC) is preparing for his final battle.
On Friday, 24 November, the 33-year-old American will step into the cage for the very last time, as he defends his coveted title against former ONE Lightweight World Champion, Shinya “Tobikan Judan” Aoki (39-7, 1 NC), at ONE: IMMORTAL PURSUIT.
The bout will serve as the wrestling legend’s retirement match and the night’s co-main event, which broadcasts live from the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
“Shinya is a really good final opponent,” the undefeated titleholder begins. “Obviously, he is a legend of the sport, and he is a really big challenge on the ground, which is where I like to compete, personally. I am excited for this bout.”
Askren, a two-time NCAA Division I Wrestling Champion and a 2008 US Olympian, has been wrapping up his martial arts career in style.
This past May, he faced then-unbeaten Malaysian champion Agilan “Alligator” Thani at ONE: DYNASTY OF HEROES in Singapore, and steamrolled him from the opening bell. He used his world-class wrestling to take the starstruck challenger down, and then utilized his impeccable top game to work submissions and drop ground strikes from favorable positions. “Funky” would defeat Thani via arm-triangle choke at 2:20 of the opening stanza.
He followed that with another superior performance at ONE CHAMPIONSHIP: SHANGHAI this past September, as he clashed with upset king Zebaztian “The Bandit” Kadestam. Again, the World Champion never seemed threatened. Askren used his elite grappling skills to bring the courageous Swedish striker to the canvas, and similarly earned the TKO at the 4:09 mark of the second round.
“It went fantastic. Everything went according to plan. It was exactly the way I envisioned it,” Askren says. “Zebaztian never gave up, which is a really good quality to have. But at the same time, in the second period, he was really more worried about surviving than actually doing something to win.”
Just one day after his flawless victory, he revealed to the organization his intentions to retire from active competition at the end of 2017.
It is a decision he has thought about for years, citing his desire to leave the cage as he exits his physical prime, as well as to spend more time with his family and focus on coaching the next generation of wrestlers at the Askren Wrestling Academy.
“I had been planning this out for a while. I have been pretty open about it,” he explains. “I had this expiration date set on myself, so I said to ONE Championship at the end of 2015 that I have two years left, and then I am done. I am going to walk away.” Following the match, he will step into an executive role with the organization.
Askren looks to cap off a momentous 2017, and an illustrious career, with one last title defense. He was quickly offered a bout against the Aoki, the former ONE Lightweight World Champion, and the man considered to be the absolute best in Asian martial arts for the past ten years.
Initially, “Funky” was surprised. He did not think a match with Aoki was an option, considering the 34-year-old Tokyo, Japan native is an Evolve MMA teammate. But the more he thought about it, the more he loved the idea.
“He is a grappler and has a great skill set that I respect, so I think it will be a great battle,” said the welterweight kingpin.
Similar to Askren, Aoki is a ground wizard, but of a completely different breed. The modern-day Japanese martial arts legend proudly owns black belts in both judo and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, and has won an astonishing 25 of his 39 matches via submission.
He was also on a nine-bout win streak before getting it snapped by Eduard “Landslide” Folayang, the man who took the ONE Lightweight World Championship from him, at ONE: DEFENDING HONOR in November 2016.
The man known as “Tobikan Judan” has already gone on record to say this match will be “the most intense bout to happen in 10 years,” and the reigning ONE Welterweight World Champion agrees strongly with those sentiments, too.
Still, even with Aoki’s accomplishments and his dynamic grappling pedigree, which vastly contrasts from the American’s, Askren will continue to employ his signature game plan of wrestling his opponent to the ground and using an impeccable top game to finish off his opposition.
“I said from day one that I am the best in the world at what I do, and this is what I am going to do every single time,” he states. “I have been saying that since I started in 2009, and I believe it more strongly than ever because I have proved it 17 times now, and I am pumped to prove it again.”
On 24 November, Askren will do so for the final time.
Singapore | 24 November | TV: Check local listings for global broadcast | PPV: Official Livestream at oneppv.com | Tickets: http://bit.ly/onepursuit17