Ben Askren has been the unrivalled king of ONE Championship’s welterweight division for the past three years, but now he is scheduled to meet a challenger who could shock the world and dethrone him.
On Friday, 26 May, Askren (15-0, 1 NC) will defend his coveted ONE Welterweight World Championship against undefeated Malaysian hero Agilan “The Alligator” Thani (7-0) at ONE: DYNASTY OF HEROES. The bout, which takes place at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, will serve as the night’s co-main event.
Ever since making his professional debut in 2009, Askren has been absolutely flawless. The former U.S. Olympic wrestler has 15 victories inside the cage, captured ONE Championship’s prestigious welterweight strap along the way, and has reigned over the division in dominant fashion.
Now, he is set to clash with Thani, a former MIMMA Welterweight Champion. The Malaysian debuted in professional martial arts competition four years ago, and has amassed an impressive 7-0 record, with all his victories coming by way of stoppage. He last defeated Jeff Huang at ONE: THRONE OF TIGERS in February, and pleaded for a title opportunity against Askren.
With the title shot granted and the event looming, our trio of expert analysts weigh in and give their takes on this exhilarating match-up.
Rich Franklin, MMA Legend And Former World Champion
Actually, I believe Agilan is a more well-rounded fighter than Ben, which begs the question, are those well-rounded skills enough to offset what Ben does very well? There is no secret to Ben’s game plan — he will take his opponent down and smother with pressure and punches.
I do not see Agilan stopping the takedown in the first two rounds. Though we should not discount Agilan’s ground game, Ben is a good pressure player, and smart enough to stay out of a submission. I believe Agilan needs to weather a wrestling storm and look to take Ben into the championship rounds. If he can keep the fight standing in those rounds, he could pull off the upset.
Steve Dawson, Broadcast Analyst And TV Presenter
The dynamic we saw when Ben fought [Luis] Santos at ONE: VALOR OF CHAMPIONS could well be present in this fight. Agilan has tremendous power, and can dominate you with his fists. Turning takedown defense into an offensive move with his knees is something we will need to see, if he is going to get the chance to exhibit that power.
Knees and kicks will be critical. By the time he gets in punching range, Ben could already be at work with what he does best. If Agilan can get his ground and pound going against Ben, that could be his way to victory. I expect to see Ben shooting for the takedown pretty quickly, and how Agilan deals with that will be the key to the fight.
Mitch Chilson, Broadcast Analyst
In his past couple of matchups, we have seen a hole emerge in Ben’s game, and that is his striking. He does not have crisp, sharp boxing. He uses his punching to get close to his opponents, tie up their hands, and wrestle them to the ground, and he is relentless in his takedowns. Like in the Santos fight, he kept shooting over and over again, and never got tired.
Agilan Thani is not at the NCAA wrestling level. He is not at that stage, but if he keeps it on the feet and uses his wrestling defensively, he could shock the world. If Agilan can use his wrestling to stop Ben and if he can outbox him, then we could have a new champion.