“Obviously, would I have liked to not get punched so many times? Yeah, absolutely…but that was how it went down.”
Ben Askren is talking about his UFC debut against Robbie Lawler last March, and he’s not listening to the dispute that it was stopped prematurely without Lawler tapping. After all, he wasn’t the referee.
“I’m personally very okay with how that fight went. It showed my toughness and my grittiness.”
As such, he doesn’t feel any particular need to make a statement win in his sophomore appearance on this Saturday’s UFC 239 card.
“I’m going into this fight as a total separate entity. I’ve gotta go execute the game plan I want to, and if I do that, I think it’s going to turn out very well for me.”
There’s no hyperbole when he says this. In fact, it’s his plainspoken, Midwestern demeanor that has endeared fans to him, even when he’s taking a flamethrower to everyone in his path.
“I’ve had so many people tell me that I’m a breath of fresh air because I come in here and I say it like I feel it, I say it like I mean it, and it’s just so normal compared to the bravado that a lot of fighters bring to it.”
His social media is evidence of this, particularly his Twitter page, which has fast become a must-follow in the MMA community.
“I try to be active on social media. I try to give my fair, honest opinion and assessment - regardless of how I fell about the person - of whatever the tweet or subject matter is. As my influence has grown, one of the most important things I can do is give a fair, honest assessment of stuff and not sugarcoat it or not say how I feel because I like the person or I have certain feelings. So that’s what I try to do all the time.”
The honest approach tends to delight fans, rankle naysayers and infuriate some of his fellow fighters.
“I think the thing that, more than anything, besides my honesty, that gets under their skin is the fact that they’ve tried to create this persona; they’ve worked so hard. And I can just come in here and be myself and people like me. But what they don’t realize is if they were just themselves, they’d be much more relatable to fans. I think that really hurts a lot of people.”
Being himself is something the flip-flop clad father of three has no issue with, and he dishes out a similar assessment of his opponent on Saturday.
“I think he’s a good fighter. I’ve always thought he’s a good fighter. But not a great fighter. He’s always failed to reach that next step, that next level, for a variety of reasons. I think he’s going to be a tough opponent, but there’s definitely no doubt in my mind that I’m going to get the job done and get my hand raised.”
If that’s the case, what’s next for the former Olympian who already held welterweight titles in Bellator and ONE Championship.
“I think there’s a good chance after this fight that I’m going to get a title shot.”
It would certainly be a historic feat, hoisting belts from three promotions. And with would-be challenger Colby Covington booked in Newark against Robbie Lawler, it might not be out of the realm of possibility. But if it seems too soon, the undefeated Askren has a backup plan.
“Just like last time, I’m going to call my shot. Last time I said I’m gonna go to London, and Masvidal and Till are fighting, and the winner of that will be ranked very close to where I need to fight. And now, two weeks after my fight here in Las Vegas, there will be Leon Edwards and Rafael Dos Anjos. So if I win this fight and ‘Marty’ [Kamaru Usman] decides to be scared and not sign the contract, then I will pick the winner of that fight.”
Steve Latrell is a writer and producer for UFC.com. Follow him on Twitter @TheUFSteve