The Cuban Wrestling Crisis: Jorge Masvidal vs. Ben Askren

At UFC 239 Jorge “Gamebred” Masvidal, looks to gain his first shot at the UFC welterweight title after well over a decade fighting as a professional. In his path is relative UFC newcomer “Funky” Ben Askren. For Masvidal, a win would prove that he can be a consistent fighter that follows up on the game planning and talent that he has shown all along. For Askren, however, a win would prove that he truly does belong in the UFC’s top ranks and his boastful claims were true all along. 

In this article, I’m going to discuss what makes Askren such a dangerous matchup for any fighter, but also what Masvidal can do in this fight to give himself the best chance for winning.

It will likely be an exhausting decision win for Askren or a masterful knockout from Masvidal. But, however this fight goes, we will likely see plenty of skillful violence at UFC 239.

The Funky underground

When Ben Askren made his UFC debut in 2019, he did so at the age of thiry-four. While young as a civilian, he is considered a much older fighter. This was because of his long-standing beef with UFC president Dana White, in which White prevented Askren from ever coming to the UFC.

Thus Askren was left to maul every welterweight outside of the UFC in Bellator and ONE. However, in 2019 he made his debut in the UFC and scored a controversial submission win over Robbie Lawler

From the beginning, Askren showed that he was the wrestler shooting within the first five seconds after the opening bell.

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A poorly set up shot that would get stuffed by Lawler.

From there, Askren would learn that he could not get lazy in the UFC and was given a warm slamming welcome from Lawler.

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A nasty and brilliant showing of Lawler’s scary strength.

Askren would survive the onslaught and come up with a submission win after the referee failed to acknowledge that Lawler was still conscious and called the fight preemptively.

Still, it showed that Askren was going to be a tough ask for any fighter in the 170-pound division. However, let’s discuss what makes Askren so interesting as a wrestler. First off, his stance is not particularly notable for a striker. He sticks his hands out as if he wants to parry all the shots incoming and does not move his head at all.

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Head high and his legs are particularly active, looking for opportunities to enter.

However, Askren is not a striker and he knows that any time striking should be used to set up his wrestling.

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Uses his punches to crowd his opponent into the fence for him to clinch and grab onto.

From the clinch position or from a failed takedown attempt, Askren will begin to work his various trips and body lock takedowns, in order to get his man to the mat.

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Notice how he fails to get the initial double leg takedown, mostly because he lacked set up, but also because he didn’t really care to put much effort into it.

Askren can shoot for doubles and singles, however, in MMA, his strength in his wrestling is the clinch and body lock. When he shoots a double, he almost always looks to circle to the back or at least to his opponent’s side in an effort to get the body lock. This allows him to cycle through leg-drags, into body locks or body lock trips.

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Askren initially goes to drag Alekshakin’s leg out but spins him around instead and get the body lock takedown.

However, Askren also knows that if his opponent sprawls onto him to prevent the initial shot, he can look for other opportunities. In the Nikolay Alekshakin fight, Askren repeatedly shot for takedowns and tried circling to Alekshakin’s back or waist with an underhook, in an attempt to get the body lock. 

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Notice that Alekshakin gets the sprawl, however, has to run away immediately because Askren is looking to clinch him up. Furthermore, the second sequence shows what Askren will do if he gets the underhook.

When Askren is able to get his man to the mat, often they try to stand up, and when they do, he looks to get the dogfight position. In which both men have underhooks and attempt to whizzer out.

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Lawler does exactly this and succeeds, escaping from Askren’s attempt to body lock him.

However, in this position, Askren is looking to hook the leg closest to him in an effort to hold his man down and create the position necessary for him to get the body lock.

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Notice Ben’s left leg, as it reaches over the and around the right leg of Alekshakin’s and thus allows him to prevent escape. He tried exactly this in the previous Lawler clip.

After Askren gets this position, he looks to either ride the back of his opponent or drag them down to their back. From the back ride, he can pin their wrists and land free shots from an angle they cannot see from.

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Notice how he pins his opponent’s wrist first in order to maintain control.
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From there, he can hook the leg and punch away.

From the top and with his opponent on their back, Askren can freely look to be in side control or in the mounted crucifix, in an attempt to punish and maul his opponent.

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From the mounted crucifix, Askren knows that it is incredibly hard to reverse this position and thus can freely strike from it.
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From side control, he consistently looks to land careful shots, but to also pin an arm for the crucifix.

These are the basics of Askren’s wrestling and they give him an exhausting number of ways he can beat up and suffocate his opponents on the mat. In order for Masvidal to win, however, he has to look at the Lawler fight in which Lawler was able to show some holes in Askren’s game.

Bracing the tide

What Lawler did against Askren was deny him the clinch exchanges that Askren likes. By tying up Askren’s bicep and putting his own head underneath Askren, Lawler was able to punish him with devastating knees to the body.

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Notice how low Lawler gets his head, in order to prevent Askren from shoving into him.

From the double collar tie, Lawler used his forearms on Askren’s collarbones to create a natural barrier and deny him the entry to the body lock.

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Notice how Lawler clears the distance from Askren, making sure that Askren cannot grab his waist before he throws the knee.

By denying the head pin from Askren, Masvidal can replicate this strategy and nail him with some knees. Masvidal can also work his kicks into punches in an effort to keep Askren’s hands closer to his body and reduce the amount of grabbing that Askren tends to enjoy.

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Punching off of his kicks can really force Askren to put his guard, thus preventing his reaching grabs for the neck.

Askren also showed that he likes to lead with his head, in an effort to crowd his opponent and rush for the collar tie. Lawler could not capitalize because he threw heavier punches. But light hooks to the body and head could circumvent the reaching guard of Askren.

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Not great to lead with your head first, into a Lawler uppercut.

Masvidal showed that he can draw opponents in and punish them with quick short punches.

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Notice how Masvidal gives ground for Till to surge forwards, but stops abruptly to drill him with punches.

By throwing some light punches and kicks, it can deter Askren from making charges and a static opponent can give Masvidal the openings to light him up on the feet.

Conclusion

For Masvidal, this fight will still be an uphill climb. Against Maia, Masvidal showed that prolonged wrestling exchanges can still trouble him. Furthermore, he tends to hang back for counters and against a charging wrestler, he needs to attack first and create confusion.

For Askren, he can do some good by kicking at Masvidal’s legs. Just something to give Masvidal to thinking about striking before entering on his takedowns. Whether or not Askren does this is beyond me, but Askren can just as likely charge in and get the takedown if Masvidal is passive.

There is a lot of “ifs” for this fight; Askren is likely to take the dominating win as Masvidal is difficult to submit or knockout. But if Masvidal can stick to a good gameplan, then maybe the Cuban can avoid the wrestling crisis ahead of him at UFC 239.

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