Based on the responses one would typically get from average MMA fans when posed the question, "Who is the best wrestler in all of mixed martial arts?" you might not even know that Ben "Funky" Askren exists. Typical fans would likely invoke the usual suspects such as Georges St. Pierre, Jon Jones, or Josh Koscheck. Which is almost hilarious when you consider how much better Askren actually is than any of the above.
Askren was a combined 87-0 throughout his junior and senior years at the University of Missouri. He was the national runner-up in both his freshman and sophomore seasons and the national champion his junior and senior years. He was a four time NCAA All-American, only the 12th wrestler to do that in the history of the sport.
Coming out of college, Askren set his eyes on a larger goal: The Olympics. The former Missouri Tiger was able to defeat Tyrone Lewis in consecutive matches to claim his spot on the 2008 United States Olympic wrestling team. While Askren would fail to medal at the Olympics, his mere appearance at the most prestigious wrestling competition puts him light years above most other MMA wrestlers.
Askren could undoubtedly make a run at the 2012 Olympic team yet again, but the current Bellator welterweight champion is focused on mixed martial arts.
"I mean I'm automatically qualified for the trials," Askren told MMA Fight Corner presented by FiveKnuckles.com. "So, like, I might show up for (expletives) and giggles but no serious training will go into it."
It seems almost ironic that the current welterweight king, Georges St. Pierre, has flirted with the idea of attempting a run at the 2012 Canadian Olympic wrestling team while Askren seems content to continue his ascent up the mixed martial arts mountain.
St. Pierre successfully making the team doesn't seem too likely when you hear Askren talk about the Canadian martial artist. When running off a list of the best wrestlers to currently compete inside the cage, St. Pierre's name was noticeably absent.
"I'd say myself," Askren said when asked who the best wrestler in mixed martial arts currently is. "Then Daniel Cormier. He would say himself though if you asked him the question."
"[Josh] Koscheck won an NCAA title but me and Daniel made the Olympic team. You got Mo Lawal, he made a world team. Koscheck would be up there. You got Johny Hendricks, he won two national titles. Phil Davis won national titles. As more and more elite wrestlers are getting into it, people like Koscheck kinda get moved down the list a little bit."
Askren contends that St. Pierre shouldn't even be mentioned among the best wrestlers due to his lack of credentials outside of mixed martial arts.
"As far as GSP is concerned, I don't think he is very good for a pure wrestler at all," Askren said. "What has he done to ever prove that? He never wrestled in any competitions. Yeah he has good MMA wrestling, but that's not the same."
It's a powerful claim for someone with a mere eight professional fights, but one that Askren can make confidently due to his wrestling prowess. There is little doubt that Askren could defeat St. Pierre in a wrestling match, but what about a martial arts bout? In the sport that St. Pierre has dominated for almost five years?
While most fighters of such little experience would look like a deer in the headlights when asked their thoughts on facing one of the best...