Ben Askren is considered by many to be the best pure wrestler in MMA, but the wrestling community have known exactly how good Askren is since long before MMA fans discovered him. In an FO exclusive, the One Championship 170lb champ looks back on his amateur wrestling highlights.
1. vs. Trevor Spencer (Wisconsin State Champs, February 2000)
It’s no surprise that the most significant encounters of Askren’s combat career came on the wrestling mat: “Number one would be my first high school state title. The kid’s name was Trevor Spencer. He was from a high school called Baraboo. It’s something I’d dreamed about since fifth grade. I made the finals as a freshman and I ended up losing in overtime to another freshman who I had a big rivalry with. I came back my sophomore year and I ended up beating an undefeated kid in the finals.
“I was never considered a superstar. To win a state title over a senior who was undefeated and favored over me – was huge. Getting my hand raised was the greatest feeling in the world. It’s indescribable. When you put your whole life into something – I did at that point. I was all-in on wrestling. The feeling is hard to describe but I was lucky enough to feel it a few more times.”
2. vs. Jake Herbert (NCAA Finals, March 2006)
“When I went to college the goal was to win a national title. I came up short my first two years but I lost to Chris Pendleton both times. I got so close to tasting the ultimate glory in folkstyle wrestling. There is no higher award than winning a Division I national championship. I was ranked number one going into my junior year but Jake Herbert was also undefeated. He won two NCAA national titles and the Hodge Trophy. He won a silver medal in the world championships, too. He was a legitimate challenge. I just went out there and I freaking destroyed him.
“That was the level I knew I was at. That was the level that my coaches knew I was at. That was the level my teammates knew I was at. Everyone knew I was good, but beating Jake Herbert 14-2 – that says I’m the best college wrestler in the country, regardless of division. I won the Hodge Trophy a few weeks later.”
3. vs. Tyrone Lewis (US Olympic Trials, June 2008)
“My parents sent me to watch the Olympic trials in Dallas in 2000. At that point I had never placed in any national tournament but I got this idea that I was going to make the Olympic team. People don’t realize how difficult it is to make the US team. In some of those brackets there are six or seven guys who have won NCAA titles. It’s the best of the best of the best. In the year 2000 I set a goal to make the team. In 2004 I made the trials. In 2007, the year I graduated, I took fifth place, so I was a few spots from making the team. It was a hard year. I needed to be number one.
“I beat Tyrone Lewis to make the team. Something else people don’t realize is that the number-one guy in the United States goes. Number two, number three, number four don’t get a shot. They are sitting at home and nobody cares about them, so I had to make this jump from number five to number one in a single year. I did it. I made the Olympic team. Making the Olympic team for America was a culmination of everything else – the state titles, the national tournaments, the NCAA titles. Making the Olympic team is as high of an honor as it gets in American wrestling.”
Read the full interview with Ben Askren inside the June edition of Fighters Only – on sale now!