A highly-anticipated welterweight title showdown is upon us.
This coming Saturday, 2 September, ONE Welterweight World Champion Ben Askren (16-0, 1 NC) will defend his prestigious title against Swedish challenger Zebaztian “The Bandit” Kadestam in the main event of ONE CHAMPIONSHIP: SHANGHAI.
Ever since claiming the title from Nobutatsu Suzuki three years ago, Askren has continued to demolish his opponents, and has never appeared threatened inside the cage.
Now, he faces a new challenge in Kadestam, who is armed with incredible grit and one-hit knockout power. This could be the champion’s biggest threat yet.
Two Lives, ONE Path
Askren has been an athlete for as long as he can remember.
Growing up in Wisconsin, a hotbed for American wrestling, Askren inevitably took up the sport, and wrote his name into wrestling history. He became a two-time Wisconsin State Champion at Arrowhead High School, a two-time NCAA Division I Champion out of the University of Missouri, and an Olympian who represented the United States in the 2008 Summer Games in Beijing.
Following his Olympic campaign, “Funky” decided to make the switch to professional competition. He debuted in February 2009, and earned his first stoppage win within two minutes.
That dominance continued for the rest of his career in promotions around America, and culminated with the ONE Welterweight World Championship in August 2014. While the undefeated Askren had a more traditional path to martial arts greatness, Kadestam’s was more of a winding tunnel.
The Swede was a troubled juvenile delinquent who had several brushes with the law. That led him to a youth detention center on the southeastern Swedish island of Gotland, where he fell in love with martial arts, and used it as his saving grace.
After being released in 2009, he started chasing after his newfound dream of becoming the best martial artist on the planet. The chase and training it required led him to Stockholm, then Thailand, where he made a successful 14-second professional cage debut.
He eventually settled in the Philippines for a period of time, where he became the PXC Welterweight Champion. Finally, just three months ago, he arrived in ONE Championship.
The Way To Shanghai
On Friday, 26 May, the wheels were set in motion for this epic title match.
At ONE: DYNASTY OF HEROES, Kadestam replaced the injured Vuyisile Colossa on two weeks’ notice and clashed with former title challenger Luis “Sapo” Santos. It was quite the undertaking for the Swede, considering his opponent was much more experienced, owned an incredible career record, and had a full eight-week training camp. Still, he was up to the task.
In the opening two stanzas, Santos battered “The Bandit” with body kicks and grounded him with superior grappling. But as the match wore on, “Sapo” was becoming more and more exhausted, just as Kadestam had planned.
By the third round, the Brazilian was exhausted, and Kadestam capitalized. He defended a labored Santos takedown, and launched his assault to seal an incredible comeback knockout victory.
Following the win, Kadestam watched as Askren took on then-undefeated Malaysian juggernaut Agilan “Alligator” Thani. The American made short work of Thani, overwhelming his foe with trademark unrelenting wrestling, and submitted him via arm-triangle at 2:20 in the first round.
When the champ got on the microphone in his post-match interview, he immediately called out “The Swedish Man” for a future title bout. Needless to say, Kadestam jumped at the opportunity.
Askren states that he will stick to the same strategy that he has been employing for the past eight years. He will look to use his Olympic-level wrestling to take Kadestam to the canvas. Once there, he will jockey for dominant position, and either attempt a submission or pummel “The Bandit” with an assortment of ground strikes until the referee stops the bout.
Conversely, the Swede says he is planning to do the exact opposite. Kadestam will also be sticking to his strengths, but he will wisely avoid wrestling with the champion, and instead lean on his elite Muay Thai in an attempt to knock Askren out. He believes it is only a matter of time before he lands that final blow.
Rich Franklin, Martial Arts Legend And Former Middleweight World Champion
“Askren is unquestionably one of the best wrestlers to ever step into the cage, so much so that nobody has been able to stop his game. It is the small details that separates him from the competition. For example, when he is on top of you, he never relaxes in top position, but does subtle movements to constantly make his opponent work and consume energy.”
Mitch Chilson, Former ONE Athlete And Current Broadcast Analyst
“Kadestam has been given a chance to do the impossible, and beat one of the greatest champions martial arts has ever known. Askren hunts for the takedown relentlessly, but it was during a takedown attempt that Kadestam stopped Santos with that huge knee. He will need to keep this bout on the feet, and stop takedown attempt after takedown attempt. However, it only takes one of those perfectly-timed strikes to turn the tables on Askren.
“That is easier said than done. Askren has been shooting takedowns his entire life, and is finely tuned to execute double and single shots with ease. Can Kadestam keep up with the Askren pace for five rounds? If he can, we might see Askren show weakness in the striking department, and that is Kadestam’s best chance at victory.”