Ben Askren has been the Welterweight champion for two years and three months. He's undefeated in MMA, posting a perfect 10-0 record over a four year career. He came into the sport heralded as a phenom; a freestyle wrestler who had accumulated accolades on the collegiate level before winning gold at the Pan American games and the US nationals before going on to the US Olympic team.
Unfortunately, all that means to some fans is that he's not a striker.
One of things that make Bellator great is the exciting fights that come about as a result of its matchmaking and especially the tournament format. This means you see more finishes, and more spectacular ones, at a more frequent rate than you would in other promotions. When you're entered in a Bellator tournament, you leave nothing to chance.
But the other thing that makes Bellator great is the variety of styles brought to the table. For instance, Ben Askren will defend his Welterweight title not against another grappler, but against a Judo practitioner in Karl Amoussou who prefers to end it early with strikes and submissions.
On paper it's a risky fight for Askren, who prefers to grind out wins with superior technique. His style has caught criticism from many MMA fans and observers for being "boring." That label is one that many wrestlers before him have had to shake, particularly at his weight class. Georges St-Pierre somehow gets stuck with it, even while trying to finish fights with arm locks.
There's a fan's bias against wrestlers in MMA, although admittedly some of it is deserved. Many fighters have assumed that having an edge in wrestling is enough, only to learn that leaving it in the hands of the judges or up to fate will only get you so far. MMA is littered with perennial contenders who prefer to grind out a decision win, but judges or their opponent have other ideas (and/or headkicks).
Askren's grappling, however, is on a whole other level. It's true that a fighter can only get so far on one skill set, but Askren is also still young in the sport and has room to develop his game. That's sort of scary considering how dominant he's been thus far.
More importantly, he's the best at what he does. Some fans and observers may not like it, but fans that are educated enough to appreciate technique observe his fights with a sense of awe and wonder.
Not that Askren seems to mind the controversy. He's remarkably self-aware, particularly for a professional athlete. He knows why some people say what they've said about him. But he accepts it and doesn't really seem to mind all that much.
The bottom line is that he wins and he's damn good at what he does. He's so good that even when putting it into the hands of the judges every time out, he's actually leaving very little to chance.
Ben Askren defends his Bellator Welterweight Championship against Summer Series Welterweight Tournament winner Karl Amoussou (16-4-2, 4KO 9 Sub) this Thursday on Spike.