Ben “Funky” Askren (17-0, 1 NC) has amassed several treasured memories from his 20-year wrestling and martial arts career, but he could be on the verge of forging the biggest one of ‘em all.
The undefeated ONE Welterweight World Champion will attempt to make a lasting memory for both himself and fans all around the globe on Friday, 24 November, as he defends his belt for the very last time against former ONE Lightweight World Champion Shinya Aoki (39-7, 1 NC) at ONE: IMMORTAL PURSUIT.
That legendary encounter will serve as both the night’s co-main event, and Askren’s retirement match.
Askren has enjoyed an illustrious time in ONE Championship, and it is truly remarkable to see just how the American and the organization itself has grown since his arrival merely three and a half years ago.
In the weeks leading up to his promotional debut at ONE: HONOR & GLORY in May 2014, the former US Olympic wrestler was heralded all throughout the region in a massive publicity campaign.
At that point, it was clear to Askren that the organization was genuinely committed to building a martial arts organization Asia had never seen. Their patience and persistence has certainly paid off, as ONE has become the world’s largest global sports media property.
For the Olympian, witnessing the organization transform into the powerhouse it is today has been one of his favorite highlights during his tenure with the company.
“I have loved watching ONE grow, because when I started, they were, essentially, in their infancy. So seeing their growth has been fantastic,” the 33-year-old says.
“I remember when I went on my first media tour in Southeast Asia in 2014. We went to different countries before I competed, and there was not a lot of knowledge of what the sport was all about.
“But now, when I go back to some of those countries, I recognize the reporters are asking better questions, the fans are more knowledgeable, and everyone knows what the sport is all about.”
While “Funky” has traveled all throughout the continent, Singapore is the country which continues to hold the warmest spot in his heart. “The Lion City” has developed into a natural comfort zone for the wrestling legend, and has become his home away from home.
“I have had a lot of fun in other places,” he admits. “Shanghai was great and Dubai was great, but Singapore is the place I spent the most time in. I really enjoy Singapore a lot. It is fantastic.”
Given his background, that is not entirely surprising.
After all, Singapore served as the site of his promotional debut, it is the headquarters of both ONE and his gym affiliation with Evolve MMA, and by the time 24 November rolls around, it will be the Asian country he has competed in the most.
Aside from receiving his elite training and dining on the delectable cuisine, Askren loves the safety and ‘orderliness’ that Singapore has become famous for.
“I love how clean it is and I love how safe it is,” he explains. “I always tell people I could send my two-year-old out at night with money hanging off her shirt and she would come back safe and with all the money she left with.
“Singapore is the safest place you can be and the cleanest place you will ever see in your life. Everyone is nice, and it is just a great place to be.”
Askren is particularly thankful for his time in ONE, because it was during this period where he discovered himself as an elite martial artist.
Despite being a world-class wrestler, he was often criticized for not stopping opponents and finishing matches. But as he matured as a martial artist and blended more styles into his already formable game, he became an unstoppable force.
Since joining ONE, he has stopped nearly all of his opponents, and that is something he takes pride in.
“I have had a lot of matches which were domination, and those felt good,” he admits. “It has been good to get a lot of finishes because that was something I was criticized for.
“It took me a little while to get my feet underneath me in martial arts, because when I started out, I did not striking and/or jiu jitsu knowledge. So it took some time to learn how to finish matches, but now, I am pretty efficient at it.”
Askren will attempt to display his ‘finishing efficiency’ one more time. He will look to cap off an incredible career in his adopted hometown of Singapore later this week, when he meets another storied grappler in Aoki.
If the American were to do that, then it would undoubtedly be the fondest memory he could ever make.