We went toe-to-toe with Askren to get his thoughts on staying unbeaten, trash-talking fighters and Mizzou's potential move to the SEC.
The Pitch: Are you ready to fight?
Askren: Oh yeah. Always ready.
So this is your first title defense?
Yes, I won the belt in October of 2011 and then I won a non-title fight. So this will be the first time I defend it.
It’s pretty sweet that you get to defend the belt in front of a sort of hometown crowd.
It’s awesome. A lot of friends and family will be here. I’m excited about Saturday, and I’m ready to make it happen.
How did you get the nickname Funky?
It was my wrestling style in college. It’s a style called “funk,” and I was better at it than anybody. And my buddy made this T-shirt with my face on it and it said “Funky” and it kind of caught on. It stuck. It wouldn't go away.
How difficult is it to make a transition from traditional NCAA- and Olympic-style wrestling to MMA?
There’s a big difference between the two, but I think wrestling is one of the best backgrounds that you can have for the sport that I’ve seen so far. I think I have a good set up for it with the wrestling background. But I still have a lot to learn, and I still do have a lot to learn.
What do you have left to learn?
There’s a lot of striking stuff that I still have to learn. I’m a brown belt in jiu-jitsu. I’m not a black belt yet. Well hell. There’s probably some wrestling stuff that I have left to learn somewhere.
How does your background translate to fighting in a cage?
It lets me determine where I want to make the fight. I can fight on the ground if I want to take him down. I can stand up and fight him if I want to fight him there. And beyond that, wrestlers have a great mentality for working hard their whole lives. That being built into us helps a lot.
It seems like there’s a bit of drama associated with fighting nowadays. For instance, when you beat Ryan Thomas, and he sort of whined about it. Next time you were matched up, you guaranteed a win, and he called you a coward. Is that serious or is that showmanship to get the fans into it?
Personally, I say stuff that I mean. A lot of fighters just run their mouths to get people excited. I won’t say something unless I really believe it.
So if you call somebody out, you’re calling them out for real?
Yeah. If we have some fighting words, we’re going to mix it up. In fighting, you shouldn’t be saying stuff unless you’re ready to get in the cage and fight.
You’re undefeated in your Bellator career. Does that add pressure to maintain that perfect record?
No. Not at all. Each fight is its own individual fight. And I’m there to win.
What are your feelings on Mizzou’s apparent plans to move to the SEC?
I hope they don’t go to the SEC just for wrestling’s sake. But it kinda looks like it’s going to happen.
How much does that hurt wrestling if they go to the SEC?
The SEC doesn’t have wrestling, so they’d be forced to compete in a different conference. But it’s the reality of things. It’s nothing I can change, so I’m not going to worry about it. Missouri wrestling will be fine no matter where they go.