Ben Askren thought he was done.
After eight years spent amassing an 18-0 record and defending the ONE welterweight belt three times, Askren announced his retirement. A year off from fighting followed, and there wasn’t a reason to assume that would change.
Originally slated to fight at the end of January, Askren’s fight with former champion Robbie Lawler was moved to UFC 235 in March. In his mind, having four months after the trade to prepare for his UFC debut was “kind of perfect.”
Askren appreciated the extended timetable mostly because it gave him more time to train, but it also gave him more time to educate UFC fans about who “Funky” is, mostly using Twitter to do so. He called out most of the division, routinely insults other fighters and seems to constantly be in the middle of beefs over Twitter.
“Obviously I have fun with Twitter, and I think it's important in 2019 to have direct access to the people,” Askren said. “It’s like you can get your message out. It doesn't have to go through mainstream media.”
Outside of the world of social media and training, Askren is kept busy with teaching wrestling to kids, something he said he wants to continue to do when his mixed martial arts career comes to a close for a second time. On top of the enjoyment he found while participating in the sport itself, Askren said the lessons he is able to apply to his life have proved invaluable.
“For me, what the sport did is show me that I could achieve,” he said. “I mean, little kids, lots of times, they never do anything on their own. Their parents doing stuff for them, and in wrestling, what I saw was I work hard, I get better. I liked that. That was really empowering.”
Askren added that wrestling lends itself to building perseverance, which he knows he’ll need when he fights Lawler, who defended the belt twice during his reign as champion.
“Robbie is never ever an easy out,” Askren said. “I'm not like a power puncher, so it’s not like I'm going to put someone out one shot or anything. And so, I'm ready for anything to happen. I think it's going to be a battle.”
Askren’s debut is one of the most anticipated aspects of the stacked card, but when he walks to the Octagon, his mindset is going to circulate what he needs to do inside the cage. From there, he’s made no qualms about the fact that he wants to fight almost everyone in the welterweight division. If his pre-UFC success is any indicator, and if he continues to be as active on social media as he has been thus far, there’s little reason to doubt Askren will make headway with UFC fans pretty quickly.
“You have to make people like you,” Askren said. “Make people like you, make people dislike you, one of the two, but if they don’t care, they're not going to follow or tune in or whatever.”
If there’s one guarantee to make about UFC 235, it’s that people are going to tune in for his debut fight.
Zac Pacleb is a writer and producer for UFC.com. You can follow him on Twitter @ZacPacleb.