Words: Jim Edwards
Very few fighters bounce back to the same heights after leaving the UFC, but British middleweight Scott Askham is arguably enjoying the finest times of his career right now.
After losing his place on the UFC roster in March 2017 following a split decision loss to fellow Brit Bradley Scott, Askham has put together a four-fight win streak and captured one of the most coveted middleweight titles in European MMA.
Having entered the UFC as a 12-0 undefeated 26-year-old in 2014, Askham tasted defeat for the first time on his UFC debut when he faced Magnus Cedenblad in Stockholm, Sweden. After dropping a unanimous decision to the Swede, Askham went 2-1 before losing twice more to Jack Hermansson and Scott and being cut.
With four losses and only two wins between October 2014 and March 2017, Askham found himself at a crossroads in his career.
Speaking recently to Fighters only, the Yorkshire native admitted that he nearly hung up the gloves altogether, but that things now are better than ever.
“When I was cut from the UFC I was down in the dumps and yeah it was a very low time,” Askham said. “I was thinking about retiring, but luckily for me, Luke Barnatt called me out before I’d even left the cage and that got my hunger back. Knowing every time I was in there fighting for my job was a heavy burden to carry.”
“Ever since I joined KSW the ball just got back rolling and I feel like I’m one of the few people that have left the UFC and made it better for themselves. Everything seems to be going my way and I’m very thankful for the opportunities I’m getting now in KSW.”
The remarkable turnaround in Askham’s career comes after joining American Top Team just prior to his final fight in the UFC. Askham himself admits it was a little too late in the day to change his form then, but having now been there for over two years he believes that one man in particular has helped him turn his career around.
“I owe everything to Steve Bruno at American Top Team,” Askham said. “All of my coaches of course have played a big part, but Steve Bruno has changed everything for me. For my last fight in the UFC, I was ATT,but I didn’t really have my feet under the table. Steve has literally changed my style of striking. I’m now a volume striker, I’m in peoples’ faces and I’m looking to land heavy. I’m putting shots together now and winning rounds.
“I’ve now got a style that wins rounds and wins points if things do go to a decision,” he continued. Everything is based around good defence and throwing volume. People land 150 strikes and lose. I know I need to land 150 strikes, but also not get hit. I’m a totally different fighternow and I’m very confident.”
Askham won the vacant KSW middleweight title after defeating Polish fan favourite Michal Materla for the second time in little over a year back in March. The previous holder of the title Mamed Khalidov was always the man Askham said he wanted to fight and he finally had his wish granted at KSW 50 when it was announced they fight in December at KSW 52.
Despite Khalidov being the most highly decorated and dangerous Polish fighter of all time, when the offer to fight him was finally put on the table, the Brit didn’t hesitate to sign the contract.
“It all came about pretty quickly if I’m honest with you,” Askham said. “I know he announced maybe two months ago that he was coming out of retirement, but I only just found out a week before it was announced this evening that I would be fighting him. It literally only took a matter of days for us to strike the deal and there was very little negotiating on my side of things. It’s the fight that I’ve always wanted so for me the paperwork was just a formality.”
The fight between Askham and Khalidov will take place on December 7 in Gliwice, Poland and surprisingly it will be contested at a catchweight rather than the middleweight limit. Askham isn’t quite sure Khalidov didn’t want to attempt to regain his KSW belt, but for him at least, it takes nothing away from the fight.
“I don’t know why it isn’t for the belt,” Askham said. “He’s a star so I would’ve happily let him fight for it. He’s nothing to prove in my eyes. Yes, he’s coming off two losses, but he’s shown his quality throughout his career and those fights were at a different weight class.
“The only reason I can think of [why he didn’t want a title fight] is that he doesn’t want five rounds,” he continued. “He’s never been known to have great cardio and he’s just coming out of retirement. Maybe he just doesn’t fancy his chances if it goes to the championship rounds. Whatever, it’s still going to be a huge night.”
Askham has been asking for the Khalidov fight ever since he disposed of Materla for the first time back at KSW 42 in March 2018. Many of the Polish fans said he still had a lot to prove before getting the opportunity, but having won another two fights since, he know thinks that he’s won over the Polish MMA community and that he’s now won their respect.
“I can believe I got the fights just because of the fights I won to get to this position,” Askham said, “A lot of fans were upset with me saying it after the first Materla fight, but I’m happy it has happened like this. I’ve proven myself to all of the KSW fans. I’ve had three fights and finished all three fights. I feel like my popularity has grown as well. It’s just great timing and now I think I’m going to be one of the biggest fights in Europe this year.
“From what I’ve seen Khalidov has already given me a lot of respect,” he continued. “I do feel like I’ve earned the respect of the Polish fans and I feel like they’ve warmed to me. Materla is a huge star out there and I’ve beaten him twice. That made it more difficult, but I think they respect my style. I think a lot more of them are now aware of how dangerous I am compared to the first fight against Materla.”
Khalidov will be returning from a brief retirement having announced he was walking away from the sport in December last year. The Pole is without a win since May 2017 having lost twice in a row to the KSW light heavyweight champion Tomasz Narkun last year, but Askham doesn’t believe that will play a factor come fight night.
“A lot of people are counting him out but I think that’s nonsense,” Askham said. “I haven’t fully watched his last fights with Narkun because for the first one I was fighting on the same card and for the second I was in the back doing media work. From what I saw both fights were very competitive, so to say he hasn’t got anything left for this fight is crazy.
“I’m going to have to have a proper sit down with my team to judge exactly where he is, but I’m not going to judge too much on those fights,” he continued. “I’m expecting the best version of Khalidov to turn up and you have to remember that he’s unbeaten at middleweight in KSW. I do feel a little bit like it’s a lose-lose situation. If I beat him, everyone will say he’s over the hill. It is what it is though. I can’t help the circumstances. I think he’s now had his time and now he’s going to pass the torch to me.”
Prior to his losses to Narkun, Khalidov had put together a 14 fight win streak and looked imperious during a run that lasted over seven years. Askham knows that if the best version of Khalidov turns up in December that he’s in for a difficult night and that he will have to be at this best to overcome him.
“He’s very athletic and I don’t feel like there’s any middle with him,” Askham said. “He’s either on it or he isn’t and he truly has that killer instinct. We’ve fought two of the same guys in LukeBarnatt and Michal Materla and he’s put them both away quicker than I have. I know where he’s dangerous.
“I looked at his record the other day and I saw he’s not been finished by TKO since 2004. That’s incredible. I’m expecting a war. I’m always going to go in there for the finish. I know it’s difficult, but I will go in there with full intentions of finishing this before the final bell.”
European MMA has certainly been on the rise in the past few years and the showdown between Khalidov and Askham is arguably one of the biggest fights yet. The Brit has never been one to get caught up in the media hype, but he’s thankful to be involved in what should be a historic event come December.
“I don’t know if that biggest fight in European MMA ever, but it’s definitely up there,” Askham said. “On paper, you can look at Daley vs MVP being bigger, but in reality it was bad. To be honest, just having people coming up to me asking whether it’s the biggest is enough. It’s incredible just be in and around the talk of it being the best. That’s where I’ve always wanted to be.”
KSW currently have just one Polish champion with Narkun the only home-grown talent holding a title. Askham thinks this is a sign of things to come in the future and that more fighters outside of Polandwill join the lines of himself, Norman Parke, and Phil De Fries on the KSW roster.
As far as Askham is concerned, KSW delivers a product like no other promotion in the world and that it will only go to attract more talent from further afield.
“KSW put on a show like no other,” Askham said. “You don’t understand until you’ve been to one of their events, but it’s better than any other MMA promotion on the planet. I’ll never forget my debut for them and the opening ceremony. It was a two-tier stage and we were out overlooking all the fans. The music, the lights, the atmosphere, it was just incredible. I expected boos but the fans showed their respect for me right away. I was in enemy territory but I still got so many cheers.
“Another dream of mine is to bea part of their second Colosseum event,” he later added. “I hope it happens. I don’t think it’s going to be next year, but hopefully, the year after I’ll be around and defending my belt. No other promotion can put on an event like that with over 50,000 fans there.”
All of Askham’s recent success of course brings about the obvious question “Do you want to go back to the UFC?” The Yorkshire man didn’t go as far as ruling a return out, but for the minute at least he says he’s very happy with life at KSW and that it’s not even on his mind.
“People all the time as me if I’ll go back to the UFC and I understand why they ask,” Askham said. “As a young fighter I think you should aim to get in the UFC, but when people ask me if I want to go back I think it’s a silly question. Look at the rankings. If I wanted to go back I think I could go back. I’d never rule it out, but at the moment it wouldn’t make sense.
“I just hope more and more fans tune in to what KSW are doing because it’s a great promotion. I hope people believe me when I say it’s the best promotion I’ve ever fought for. I don’t have to say that. People who aren’t watching are missing out.”
With just a few short months now until the biggest fight of his life Askham is now 100-percent focused on preparing for Khalidov. A win against the greatest Polish fighter of all time would put Askham amongst the elite in the world at 185-pounds, but he knows to achieve that isn’t going to be easy.
The Brit’s confidence is high though he knows he’s going to have to dig deeper than ever to overcome his greatest task ever.
“Scott Askham is going to win, that’s my official prediction,” he said. “I’m going in there for three tough rounds. If I take him out, then I take him out. If I don’t then I’m going to take the decision.I can’t see him beating me. He’s a dangerous guy, but I’ve never been finished and I’m in this for the long run. I will get the win.”