Tonight is the night for two bitter rivals to settle the score, once and for all, as decorated wrestler and fast rising MMA prospect Ben Askren and UFC veteran Ryan Thomas are set to butt heads one more time.
The pair previously faced off at Bellator 14 on April 15 as part of the Bellator welterweight quarterfinals. When it was all said and done it was Askren who had his arm raised in victory following a tight guillotine choke that caused the referee to call an end to the contest just halfway through the opening round. Immediately following the stoppage Thomas rose to his feet protesting the stoppage, to no avail. After being given another chance in the tournament and making the most of it with a first round TKO over Jacob McClintock, Thomas earned the right to correct the perceived miscarriage of justice done to him during the rival’s previous meeting.
Askren and Thomas will clash one more time tonight during Bellator 19, which will air live on FOX Sports Net from the Verizon Theater in Grand Prairie (just outside of Dallas). Highlights from the show will be broadcast nationwide this weekend on NBC, Telemundo and the cable network mun2.
FiveOuncesofPain.com recently had the chance to speak with Askren to gather his thoughts on this highly anticipated rematch with Thomas this evening.
FiveOuncesofPain.com: You recently thanked Bjorn Rebney via tweet for the easiest road to the finals after Thomas cam out successful in his second chance bout with Jacob McClintock; Do you feel you got a good sense for what Thomas has to offer in the 2:40 seconds you guys went at it recently?
Ben Askren: What I felt from him wasn’t much different than the few fights that I saw of his going into that fight. He goes hard. He comes right out and goes right after you but he doesn’t have a lot of skills to back up the effort. With my ability to wrestle and grapple, I feel like I can just dominate him. It wasn’t decisive on April 15th but it will be on May 20th, and that’s just the way it’s going to be.
FiveOuncesofPain.com: There’s nobody with half a brain that’s going to argue that you’re far superior to Thomas in the wrestling department, but from what you felt in your previous meeting, do you feel like you are the physically stronger man out of the two of you?
Ben Askren: I’m not sure if I’m stronger than them if we were to go into the weight room, but as far as grappling strength is concerned, most definitely. I understand leverage – as far as wrestling and Jiu-Jitsu is concerned – very well.
FiveOuncesofPain.com: Who have you been training with leading up to this fight at Bellator 19 against Thomas?
Ben Askren: I had a really good camp out in Milwaukee with Alan Belcher. I was up at Belcher’s camp the Monday and Tuesday before I fought Ryan and then I went back out there after I won that fight. I started a camp with Alan the Saturday after I beat him Ryan. I sparred a little bit with those guys out there, did a lot of grappling, and I feel better than ever now.
FiveOuncesofPain.com: Did the way Ryan handled himself following your first meeting leave a bad taste in your mouth?
Ben Askren: I wouldn’t say there is any bad blood. I don’t appreciate the way he handled himself after that defeat and I’m going to solve it; there’s not much to it.
FiveOuncesofPain.com: Do you feel like Ryan knows he was trapped in that submission?
Ben Askren: He wasn’t going anywhere. As far as him being unconscious or being close to tapping out, I can’t say with 100% certainty. I felt like from watching the tape that he definitely might have went unconscious for a second there, and if he didn’t, he was going to soon because he wasn’t going anywhere. The choke felt good, it was underneath his neck, and it was just a matter of time.
FiveOuncesofPain.com: Is finishing this fight as early as possible something that enters your mind because of the nature of the tournament format you will be fighting in?
Ben Askren: I’m always looking for the finish. It was the same back in my wrestling days when I was always looking for the pin. I’m just very aggressive by nature. Obvious that I have the striking skills to finish my opponents very fast, so my objective is to get them to ground and choke them. I can do a lot of other submissions but I like to choke my opponent as quick as possible if I have it my way. It’s a fight so if you don’t take that opportunity to finish someone as soon as you can, then they are going to end up hurting you.
FiveOuncesofPain.com: Of course, being that you’re coming from an incredibly decorated wrestling background, the question everyone wants to know the answer to is; How do you feel about your striking arsenal at this point in the development of your fighting career?
Ben Askren: To start out I wasn’t good at all with my striking, but I have improved so much during my time training. I’ve gotten so much better but the fact of the matter is that I’m very good on the ground. Some fighters fight to put on a show or impress the crowd, but I fight to win; plain and simple. It’s a sport, and just like any other sport, I go in there with one objective and that’s to win. My best opportunity to win is to take my opponent down, which I can do very easily, and take the fight to the ground.
FiveOuncesofPain.com: How much of potential do you feel like you’ve realized at this point in your constantly developing MMA career, if you had to estimate a percentage of your potential that you’ve come into?
Ben Askren: I feel like I’ve realized about 50% of my potential at this point. A lot of fighting is mental. A lot of it’s being confident, tough, gritty, be willing to go in there and battle, and a lot of that stuff transfers straight over from wrestling. My stand up is not that good. I haven’t figured it out yet. I’m going to figure it out, it’s just taken a little more time than everything else.