He started as a wrestler, he fought as a wrestler and now he’s giving back to the wrestlers.
Just over two years ago, Ben “Funky” Askren announced his retirement from MMA after dominating almost everywhere he fought with one skillset glowing above all others - wrestling.
Askren’s college career consisted of two NCAA titles and one of the most dominant runs in the sport’s history. His dominance carried into MMA after he finished his career with a record of 19-2 (1) with title runs devoted entirely to his wrestling and marketability.
With the urge to compete in MMA largely gone, Askren’s life is back to the sport that’s mattered the most the whole time.
Despite the footage of the wild-haired Missou grad getting his hand raised in every video package, Askren doesn’t quite agree that he has re-engineered an MMA fandom in the sport of NCAA wrestling.
“There’s so much fandom around the college wrestling experience,” Akren said. “People love college wrestling. It gets great ratings on ESPN, the NCAAs sell out every year they’re allowed to sell out, this year was different. I think there’s a lot of fandom around that.”
With how many mixed martial artists come from an NCAA background, Askren does acknowledge that the label has stuck to him as a collegiate wrestler stronger than most, although he’s not sure exactly why.
With his new livelihood being centered around wrestling academies, it does seem to be for the better that he’s so strongly identified as a “wrestling mixed martial artist” and a “wrestler” among MMA fans. The Askren name can now comfortably live out its passion of making a living instilling what they’ve learned into the next crop of the sport.
“My brother and I own five wrestling academies,” Askren explained. “It’s a business, it’s for profit, I don’t want to act like martyrs or anything, but I think Max and I and the people who work for us understand what wrestling did for us and how it formed and shaped us as people.”
While the fitness benefits are quite evident, as few people have ever left a wrestling practice saying it was easy, it benefits the athletes far beyond cardio and BMI.
Follow Ben as he coaches the @awawisconsin 15u team at the Nuway duals.— Funky (@Benaskren) February 10, 2021
Running AWA and coaching youth wrestling is one of his full time job. He is navigating a real world schedule and is figuring out how to fit a full training camp into it. Check it out. Link in bio. pic.twitter.com/Xb622w9gyX
“It’s a great way to shape young men and women for the future of their lives,” Askren said. “It builds toughness, self-reliance, it builds work ethic; there’s all these characteristics that wrestling builds. You can get them from other places, but you’re definitely going to get them from wrestling.”
In an academy that churns out 20-25 NCAA athletes, look to bet the over on how many will go D-1.
Despite the consistent success in multiple gyms and MMA gold under his belt, don’t go to Askren Wrestling Academy looking for tips on ground-and-pound once you learn the most efficient double leg takedown.
“We don’t really push the MMA angle,” Askren said. “I love wrestling and our goal is to get them to love wrestling too, so by the time they get older they’re all-in on the sport of wrestling.”
Askren didn’t make comparisons between MMA and wrestling or say one is harder than the other, but he definitely said that expectations were far different when coaching youth wrestling than youth martial arts classes.
“With our wrestling academy, it’s really clear,” Askren laughed. “Parents bring their kids to the academy, they want to get tougher, learn some work ethic, maybe if they do well, they’ll win a state title or go to college. The expectation is perfect for where it should be, whereas with MMA you get every parent thinking their kid is going to be on TV one day and be Conor McGregor.”
The gyms are relatively new in the grand scheme of the sport of wrestling, but AWA is starting to see some names climbing up the rankings. Keegan O’Toole, Parker Keckeisen, Peyton Mocco, Jared Kreider and more have gone from AWA to become collegiate threats and it’s unlikely that the number of names will be shrinking any time soon.
“If you did wrestling you probably had a great coach that changed your life and impacted you in a positive way,” Askren laid out. “Conversely, you can usually think of a really s**tty coach you had that made you hate what you were doing. I think wrestling has some not-so-great coaches so if I can keep putting great coaches in front of kids and positively impacting lives I’ll keep doing it over and over again.”
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