ONE Championship welterweight champion Ben “Funky” Askren is not really concerned about his fight on Friday night, although he considers Luis “Sapo” Santos his “toughest” opponent to date.
Since his debut in 2000, Santos has competed across the globe with more than 70 pro fights on his record. He boasts a record of 35 knockout wins, locked up more than a dozen submissions and could be the one to put the first blemish on Askren’s undefeated record.
The welterweight world champ doesn’t see it that way, though. “Funky” is certain that the Brazilian has never crossed paths with anyone quite like him because he believes that he brings a unique skillset to the cage that Santos will have a tough time dealing with.
“[Santos is] probably the toughest guy I’ve faced,” Askren told MMAjunkie. “Obviously he has a lot of experience, but I’m not afraid of him. He has a lot of TKOs, but he’s fought a lot of guys who aren’t on his level. He’s a guy who will take a ton of fights and fights all the time, but his competition is questionable.”
When asked about his game plan going into the arena on Friday, Santos said, “I know Askren’s wrestling is always his game plan. I’m both a BJJ and judo black belt so it won’t be easy for him. It doesn’t have to go there though; I’ll finish him by knockout!”
Askren hasn’t competed since ONE: Reign of Champions in August. He scored an 84-second TKO win over Nobutatsu Suzuki to win the title and pushed his winning streak to 14 fights.
Suzuki, much like Santos, had earned the majority of his victories by knockout. Askren quickly took him out of his element and submitted the Japanese fighter in less than two minutes, securing the belt and world champion title for himself.
Although Askren may not be a knockout artist, he clearly has no doubts that he is prepared for whatever Santos throws his way. In an interview with MMAJunkie, Askren said: “He’s going to come out and swing hard, but I train with a lot of prolific strikers in the gym every single day and I think they’re way more prolific than he is. So I don’t think his striking should be an issue. I pretty much haven’t stopped training since my last fight. I’m ready to rumble.”
Santos, however, is also quite the challenger. He made his ONE Championship debut last year and stopped Bakhtiyar Abbasov with a brutal knee less than a minute into the opening round. Despite being renowned for his striking prowess, Santos actually started out studying the grappling arts.
In an interview with MMA Mania, Santos said: “I train at American Top Team with Katel Kubis, Luciano Macarrao, Ricardo Liborio and Ailton Barbosa,” he said. “Kami Barzini is my wrestling coach and I’m working hard to not be derrubado [taken down], but if it does happen, with my jiu jitsu I will be fine.”
The Brazillian also stated that he can KO anyone in his weight class and that Askren has never felt the kind of power he possesses in his hands.
While Santos has received solid praise from Askren ahead of their title fight, he said the respect ends once the cage door closes. He has defeated every opponent in a fairly convincing manner, and he doesn’t expect that to change any time soon.
Askren stated in previous interviews, “I’ve said this since my first pro fight: If you’re going to put me in a cage, I’m going to walk across the ring, grab the other person, take them to the ground and beat them up. That’s happened in 14 straight fights now. It’s going to happen again in my 15th.”
Askren (14-0) and Santos’s (61-9-1) title fight headlines ONE: Valor of Champions on Friday night. The event streams via online pay-per-view around the world to over 70 countries from the Mall of Asia Arena in Manila.
In the co-main event, Filipino superstar Mark Striegl will make his promotional debut when he takes on the undefeated Casey Suire of the US.
Striegl has a proven grappling pedigree, and has won 11 of his bouts by submission.
Suire is an undefeated mixed martial artist currently training in Indonesia. He has finished all of his opponents, with the majority of them being submission victories.