MMA: Ben Askren to face Shinya Aoki in farewell bout in ONE card

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Ben Askren’s last professional fight before he calls it a career will be against Shinya Aoki in November. Handout

MMA welterweight champion Ben “Funky” Askren will step inside the cage for the last time when he tackles Japanese grappler Shinya Aoki in ONE Championship’s biggest card this year.

Askren, unbeaten in 18 pro MMA fights, will appear together with the “Tobikan Judan” (grand master of flying submissions) in the co-main event of ONE: Immortal Pursuit in Singapore on November 24.

In the co-main feature, ONE atomweight champion Angela Lee will battle Japan’s Mei Yamaguchi in a rematch.

It will be an intriguing match between Askren, due to retire, and Aoki, who both have impressive grappling pedigrees.

Askren, a former NCAA Division I all-American and US Olympic wrestler, has stopped 6 of his last 7 opponents. 

Aoki, who owns black belts in both Brazilian jiu-jitsu and judo, is considered one of the best pure grapplers in professional martial arts competition today.

What makes their coming clash more interesting is that the two used to train together.

“Shinya and I have a similar style . . . I don’t get to face off with someone with a style similar to mine and so it’s kind of like going to the mirror and see what it feels like to go against myself,” Askren said during a media teleconference.

Aoki hinted at the strategy he might use against his former training partner.

“(I’m) going to move a lot, move big and dynamically, that’s where (I’ll) focus on the fight with Ben Askren,” the Japanese grappler said through an interpreter.

“I’m pretty sure this fight will be very dramatic. I’ll give everything I’ve got and make it exciting.”

ONE chief executive and founder Chatri Sityodtong said that when Askren retires, the welterweight king will take on a new role in the promotion’s executive level.

“We can use the competitive fire of Ben in the business world,” Sityodtong said.

“Ben will join the competition management with Matt Hume and will be tasked to look for the best competitors in the planet, help with the matchmaking.” 

Askren said he has always wanted to retire at the peak of his career.

“I’m 33 now, and MMA fighting is a selfish pursuit . . . I said that when my contract runs out at the end of 2017, I’ll be done with fighting, because if you don’t put a date on it you just keep on going down that road,” he said.

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