Undefeated American mixed martial artist Ben Askren made a stop in Phnom Penh yesterday as part of his five-city tour of Asia, conducting a media workout session at Paddy’s Gym in front of a packed crowd of journalists, cameramen and fight fans.
The former US Olympic team and college champion wrestler has amassed an incredible 12-0 record in the cage and is regarded as one of the world’s top welterweights. He is set to make his ONE FC debut in the main event of ONE FC: Honor & Glory on May 30 at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, where he will be facing top contender Bakhtiyar Abbasov (11-2) of Azerbaijan.
The Post’s sports editor Dan Riley caught up with Askren for an exclusive chat yesterday.
You’ve been quoted as saying that your move to Asia was due to a “great offer” from ONE FC. But what did you know about Asian MMA and its fighters?>/b>
When I was growing up, PRIDE in Japan was very popular and I watched some of it. Now, after the fall of PRIDE, ONE FC has emerged and I am excited to be a part of it.
What do you know about Cambodia, its recent history and its sites of interest?
I was a geography major at university, so I knew a bit about the region. But I’ve been told I must bring my wife back here to check out more of Cambodia.
I hear rumours of a ONE FC event in Cambodia. Would you like to fight here?
I’m a fighter, so I don’t get to choose where and when I fight. But if the organisation want me to fight here, I’ll be happy to.
Your background is firmly set in wrestling as you are a US collegiate champion and past member of the US Olympic team. What was your reaction when you hear wrestling was dropped from the Olympics only to be reinstated months later?
It was a shock. Wrestling is one of the oldest sports at the Olympics. It’s as old as running. But its back now, so that’s good.
What are your thoughts on your Azerbaijan opponent for May 30? Do you see any risk of losing your unbeaten streak?
I’m confident in my takedown and groundwork abilities. I think I have enough to deal with that guy on the night.
Your nickname is “Funky”, based on your unorthodox style of Funk wrestling rather than your funky hair. Some media outlets claimed you struggled to win over fans in America. Do you think your style will be more appreciated in Asia?
Crowds in America are different, for sure. They want to see knockouts and blood. Its was nice to see MMA fights over here, where the fans cheered when fighters escaped holds on the ground. They seemed to know and respect much more of the sport and its tactics.
Do you think you have much to learn still in MMA and do you think relocating to Asia will help you with this?
There’s always something new to learn about mixed martial arts. There’s a lot of different elements to it. I’m very happy being at Evolve Fight Gym in Singapore, training alongside champions in Muay Thai, grappling and jiujitsu.
What do you see as the future of the sport in Asia?
I think ONE FC is set for a big boom in popularity across the region. Its going to get big.
If you could give one piece of advice to aspiring Cambodian MMA fighters, what would it be?
Work hard and learn. There is so much to discover about different fighting techniques, especially wrestling and jiujitsu. So it needs a lot of dedication.