ONE Champion Ben Askren is going to be calling it a career later this year. He made the announcement just days after defending his ONE Championship welterweight title for the third time. He is scheduled to fight longtime mixed martial artist Shinya Aoki, who is best known for his lightweight run and has even competed at featherweight.
ONE Championship chairman Chatri Sityodtong has made the bout official as it is set to take place in November. To say that Askren’s retirement shocked fans would be an understatement.
Askren spoke with Ariel Helwani on Tuesday’s The MMA Hour about the upcoming fight and his retirement. According to Askren, the only other fight that would bring him out of retirement would be against current UFC welterweight champion Tyron Woodley, whom Askren trains with at Roufusport in Milwaukee.
“The one and only way I would ever come back for another fight is if it was for the No. 1 spot in the world. Not two, not three, not four, not five. None of those spots,” Askren said. “Then obviously the second part of that would be his name is not Tyron Woodley, because I have no interest in fighting Tyron, a very good friend of mine. So if for some reason the No. 1 person’s name was not Tyron Woodley, and I got offered a fight against No. 1, I would come back to prove I was No. 1. But other than that, I’m retired. I don’t need to come back and prove I’m two or three or four, anywhere in there; I’ll be done.”
Askren made it known that wants to retire at the right time. The reason for that is so he can avoid long-term injuries and damage are suffered. Askren already feels out of his physical prime. Thus, now is a perfect time to step away.
“If you think about who retires during their prime, the number of athletes who do that is very small,” Askren said. “Obviously, in a sport like golf, we see Tiger Woods fall off. There’s not really too much damage he can take from that, although when you watch him and he sucks and you’re like, ‘God, you used to be so good but you suck now,’ it’s concerning as a fan. But then you look at someone like Muhammad Ali, who was literally my favorite athlete of all time. The punishment he took from sticking around too long past his prime, we could guess it led to a lot of the problems he had later in his life.
“I am definitely not, physically, at the peak I was, say, four to five years ago,” he said. “It’s a slippery slope, because can I still compete with the best in the world? Yeah, of course, I can can, but you start getting a little worse, and a little worse, and a little worse. So when is that cut off? For me, I set something for myself — I said, ‘This is going to be it for me.’ I said it awhile back. I’m going to stick by it because I need to be disciplined in that matter, and I think a lot of athletes don’t do that for themselves.”
The second reason for his decision to retire is that fighting has taken a lot of time to coach other fighters and people and to spend time with his family away from Askren, who claims that he has planned to hang his gloves up for good at the end of 2017 for already about two years.
“If you’re competing right, if you’re doing it right, competition should be a very selfish pursuit,” Askren said. “When I was younger, I always said I would be done by the time I was 30 (years old) because I wanted to be able to give back. I thought I would be coaching — and I am — and I thought I would be a parent — and I am. There’s a lot of things that I have to do. For example, I didn’t coach anyone for about the last six weeks before my fight at AWA, because this is my time, and I need to get ready. There’s things I missed out on in my kids’ lives, because I have to get ready.”
“Maybe a couple grappling competitions a year, maybe a couple wrestling matches,” he said. “Something like that, because I know I’ll miss competing. But something where I feel like I have to be the best in the world at it, something where I don’t have to be totally selfish.”
“I’m perfectly content,” he said. “I have never turned down a fight, I’ve never pulled out of a fight, I’ve never missed weight, I’ve never failed a drug test, and I’ve never lost.”