Ben Askren: ‘Never say never’ on return to MMA

It has been almost a year to the day that Ben Askren called it a career in the sport of mixed martial arts.

When the former ONE Championship and Bellator champion—not to mention someone with a memorable three-fight stint in the UFC—announced his retirement, he cited conversations with doctors that revealed he needed a full hip replacement, thus ending his athletic career for good.

In a recent interview with MMA Fighting, Askren was asked about it being the one-year anniversary of his announcement, which didn’t seem that long ago to him.

“It does not feel like that long ago,” Askren told MMA Fighting while appearing on What the Heck. “The whole last couple of years seems like a blur—from the un-retirement, to the retirement, to the fighting again—and then this year, 2020 for everybody has been pretty wild with everything going on.”

After consulting with doctors and exploring his options, it turned out that Askren did not need a full hip replacement after all. In fact, he took a different route with his surgery in September; one that has helped him to become pain-free for the first time in a long time.

“It’s called a Birmingham hip,” Askren explained. “What they do is get it all cleaned up, they cap the top of it, clean up the inside, put something on the inside, but yeah. I’m pain-free but there was a whole bunch of other things: I knew a bunch of pain on my one side, and my range of motion was tied to my hip issue, but I had all kinds of back problems.

“The day after the surgery, it was just gone. It was wild. I wasn’t anticipating that. I just thought I had a bad back because I wrestled my whole life, and the morning after my surgery I woke up and my back pain was gone. I thought maybe it was because I was on pain pills, but it just never came back.”

His next move in the MMA space will be teaming up once again with ONE as he’ll be part of the upcoming reality show The Apprentice: ONE Championship Edition. Askren spent some time in Singapore to film for his currently undisclosed role on the program.

Now that he’s feeling better and getting to experience things without a lot of pain, Askren reflects on his career where it certainly wasn’t always that way.

“It’s one of those things that when you’re in it, you just feel like this is how it is,” Askren said. “You don’t think about it much and you just accept that it’s the way it is. Now that I feel good, it’s like that’s the way that I am. It’s tremendous.”

With his hip and back feeling better than ever, Askren believes that with continued rehab, he can return to the mats where he was a 2008 Olympian in freestyle wrestling.

As far as a return to the world of mixed martial arts is concerned, Askren feels like the door may be closed, but it’s not completely locked behind him.

“I would say, never say never,” Askren stated. “I think it’s unlikely, but I’m gonna wrestle next year. Not WWE wrestle, but real wrestle. I need a reason to train and stay in shape. I love eating ice cream and everything else. I haven’t got on a scale in a year. I haven’t gotten on a scale since I fought Demian Maia over a year ago.

“If I don’t have a good reason to get on the scale, I’m not getting on the scale and I know that ain’t great for my health. I’m not super obese, but I’m definitely not in great shape right now and I can’t really train. I can ride a bike right now, that’s about all I can do with my hip but give me a few more months and I’ll be able to start getting on the mat. I’ll be able to start lightly doing some stuff.

“I’m definitely going to try and get some wrestling matches next year just so I can have a reason to stay in shape and I’m at the wrestling academy five days a week anyways so it won’t change that much.”

Askren, who previously retired in 2017, entered the UFC as part of a historic trade that sent Demetrious Johnson over to ONE. “Funky” brought an unbelievable amount of attention to his three bouts, which included a wild submission win over Robbie Lawler at UFC 235 in March 2019. He would go on to get finished by Jorge Masvidal in a record-setting five seconds via flying knee at UFC 239 and, after taking the loss better than maybe anybody in the history of the sport, went on to face Maia at UFC Singapore in October 2019.

Maia went on to win by submission in the third round of what would be Askren’s last UFC appearance.

While Askren is keeping his options open, should he get the urge to return to the cage, he would be doing something that his doctor likely hasn’t seen before.

“My doctor doesn’t think that anyone has had the surgery and then fought professionally afterwards,” Askren said. “He’s done a few golfers, and he’s done like 950 of these. He’s one of the preeminent guys that does them. I want to say he’s done The Undertaker, or something like that.

“And that’s one of the reasons I was excited about this specific surgery because if you do the full hip replacement, you don’t do sh*t. You can’t run, you can’t wrestle, you can’t grapple, you’re out on everything. With the surgery that I got, I should be able to be full go after a year.”

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