Former ONE welterweight champion Ben Askren has officially been traded to the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC). That being said, the undefeated 34-year-old believes that he is well past his physical prime leading into his octagon debut.
Speaking on a recent edition of The MMA Hour, Ben Askren decided to break down his thoughts on the matter.
“The first reason is because nobody retires in time. I mean, you think about who retires during their prime, the number of athletes who do that in any sport is very small. And obviously a sport like golf, where you see Tiger Woods fall off — well, there’s not really too much damage he could take from that, right? Although when you watch him and he sucks, and you’re like, ‘God, he used to be so good, but you suck now,’ it’s kind of disconcerting as a fan, right? But then you look at someone like Muhammad Ali, who was literally my favorite athlete of all-time. The punishment he took from sticking around too long past his prime, man, I would have to say — we can’t prove it, but I’d have to say we could guess it led to a lot of the problems that he had later in his life.
“So we’re in a combat sport, it’s dangerous, and I am definitely not physically at the peak I was, say, four to five years ago. And you know, it’s a slippery slope, because can I still compete with the best in the world? Yeah, of course I can. But you start getting a little worse and a little worse, a little worse. When is that cutoff?
“Then the No. 2 reason will be, if you’re competing right, if you’re doing it right, competition should be a very selfish pursuit. When I was younger, [I would read] athletes’ biographies, I always said I would be done by the time I was 30, because I wanted to be able to give back. I thought I would be coaching, and I am, and I thought I would be a parent, and I am. And there’s a lot of things that I have to do. For example, I didn’t coach anyone for about the last six weeks before my fight at AWA, because this is my time, I need to get ready. And there’s things I miss out in my kids’ life, because this is my time, I have to get ready. So, I guess those are the two main reasons that I kind of set an expiration date for myself.”
“The plan when I was younger was (to retire at) 30. I always said 30. That was the number that I picked, that’s a good number. Honestly, MMA people have kind of gotten confused about how long people should last because of how many people are using PEDs, and obviously that extends male athletes’ peaks. A male athlete’s peak, I believe, should be somewhere between 26 and 30. If we use those PEDs, we can extend it significantly, and that was what MMA fans got used to.
“But being a guy who does not use any of that stuff, like I said, I’m not the same guy I was at 28 physically. Now, technically I’ve gotten better, because I haven’t been doing this MMA thing that long. But physically, I have definitely gotten worse. I’ve passed my peak. And so, when I re-signed my contract with ONE Championship two years ago, I told them straight up, ‘I’m done. At the end of 2017, I’m done.’ Initially, like I said, I thought it was going to be 30. (But) 33, that’s it.”
“Young guys kind of have this chip on their shoulder of, ‘I want to prove something,’ right? ‘I’ve got to prove how tough I am. I’ve got to prove how good I am.’ And man, now as I’m getting older, I think it’s almost sad when guys my age and older still have that chip on their shoulder,” Askren said. “It’s like almost embarrassing. It’s like, hey, I’ve done what I could do, I’ve accomplished a lot, and now this, especially with wrestling — if this next generation wants to pass me up, great job. Good for them.
“Like, we just had the 2017 U.S. freestyle world team win the world championship for our country, and seeing all those guys have success, kind of passing what I did, man, I was so proud of them. And so I don’t feel like I have that chip on my shoulder anymore, and I haven’t had it for awhile, that chip on my shoulder, ‘I’ve got to prove myself, I’ve got to show people how tough I am,’ where I might’ve had that when I was a younger guy. I almost see that as a detriment, if I still have that at 33, to my life.”