UFC Fight Night viewers guide: Maia vs. Askren is grappling gold

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From October 2018 (the month in which the UFC traded Demetrious Johnson to ONE Championship for Ben Askren) to July 2019, you couldn’t look anywhere without seeing Askren.

He was the organization’s breath of fresh air. An undefeated, wrestling-heavy welterweight who wasted no time calling out just about every fighter on the roster — not to mention the UFC’s president himself, Dana White.

By July 6, Askren’s popularity had reached a fever pitch. And had he defeated Jorge Masvidal that night at UFC 239 in Las Vegas, chances were he was headed straight to a shot at the 170-pound title.

You want to see how fast things change in this sport? Look no further than Askren in October 2019.

In his own words, Askren was climbing aboard a “rocket ship” over the first eight months of his UFC career. He was everywhere leading up to July 6 — and then virtually nowhere, relatively speaking, after losing to Masvidal in a UFC-record five-second knockout.

Askren (19-1, 1 NC) returns to competition Saturday when he meets Demian Maia (27-9) in the main event of UFC Fight Night in Singapore. The event airs on ESPN+ at a nontraditional start time of 8 a.m. ET for the main card, 5:30 a.m. for the prelims.

Askren has said repeatedly leading up to the bout that he believes his stock will return to exactly where it was with a good performance against Maia, who is riding a two-fight win streak after dropping three straight in 2017 and early 2018.

Considering how fast Askren fell out of the public eye based on one loss, it’s hard to say he is wrong. His rise back to the top could come just as quick. For that to happen, however, he’ll need to make a statement Saturday — both in his performance and on the mic afterward. And for a guy who is keen on making the most of his time (he didn’t make his debut with the UFC until age 34), Askren might not be able to afford another setback.

By the numbers

3-0: Career record of Askren at Singapore Indoor Stadium, site of Saturday’s bout. Those victories came when “Funky Ben” was with ONE Championship. Overall, he was 6-0 with a no contest in the Asian promotion, with all of the fights taking place outside North America. Maia, meanwhile, has not competed outside North and South America in 9½ years.

8: Rear-naked choke victories by Maia, the most in UFC history.

5: Seconds that Askren’s most recent fight lasted. His knockout at the hands — or knee, rather — of Jorge Masvidal in July.

0: Significant strikes landed by Askren in his two-fight UFC career. He is one of four fighters in the modern era of the UFC to land zero significant strikes in their first two fights, along with Darren Elkins, Tim Hague and Joe Veres. In Askren’s debut win over Robbie Lawler in March, he was outlanded 26-0, which is the greatest significant strike differential for a fighter landing zero strikes, according to UFC Stats.

30: UFC fights for Maia, most by a Brazilian fighter and tied for fourth most overall in promotion history.

Source: ESPN Stats & Information

A look back

Five vs. five

Demian Maia’s most recent results
Win: Anthony Rocco Martin (MD, June 29)
Win: Lyman Good (SUB2, Feb. 2)
Loss: Kamaru Usman (UD, May 19, 2018)
Loss: Colby Covington (UD, Oct. 28, 2017)
Loss: Tyron Woodley (UD, July 29, 2017)

Ben Askren’s most recent results
Loss: Jorge Masvidal (KO1, July 6)
Win: Robbie Lawler (TechSUB1, March 2)
Win: Shinya Aoki (TKO1, Nov. 24, 2017)
Win: Zebaztian Kadestam (TKO2, Sept. 2, 2017)
Win: Agilan Thani (SUB1, May 26, 2017)

Fighting words

“This is really the first time in my competitive career where I’ve actually had to worry about grappling. Before, one of my coaches was like, ‘Well, you kind of give up this and that.’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, that’s because I know that the other guys suck and I don’t really have to worry about it too much.'”
–Askren, speaking at a UFC news conference in Singapore last month

“All of the fighters that I fight, they want to just strike, they want to sprawl, they want to avoid takedowns, they want to avoid grappling. Ben represents wrestling, a grappling art, like I do. At this point of my career, this is very exciting. It’s interesting for me and my team, this challenge right now. I pretty much carry the flag of jiu-jitsu, and he carries the flag of wrestling. … It’s not just a challenge of styles, it’s a fight that is rare nowadays, where the fighters represent something, stand up for something.”
–Maia, at the same news conference

Film study

Tap, tap, tap …

Brett Okamoto’s prediction

I’m going Askren here. Maia has beat some very talented wrestlers in his career, but when he goes against the very best of them, particularly recently (Tyron Woodley, Colby Covington, Kamaru Usman), he has struggled. Greatly. Maia’s performances have not fallen off a cliff, as his two-fight win streak suggests, but he is 41 years old. A five-round fight favors the younger Askren, in my opinion. I think it will go the distance, but there’s also a chance we could see Maia finished for only the second time in his career. Askren via decision.

Waiting in the wings

A bunch of guys who are going to want to just stand and bang. Does anyone in the UFC want to go to the canvas with either of these guys?

What else to look for … beyond the main event

The rest of the card, co-main event down:

ESPN+, 8 a.m. ET
Lightweight: Michael Johnson vs. Stevie Ray
Lightweight: Frank Camacho vs. Beneil Dariush
Heavyweight: Ciryl Gane vs. Don’tale Mayes
Welterweight: Muslim Salikhov vs. Laureano Staropoli

ESPN+, 5:30 a.m.
Strawweight: Randa Markos vs. Ashley Yoder
Lightweight: Alex White vs. Rafael Fiziev
Men’s featherweight: Enrique Barzola vs. Movsar Evloev
Heavyweight: Sergei Pavlovich vs. Maurice Greene
Strawweight: Loma Lookboonmee vs. Alexandra Albu
Heavyweight: Raphael Pessoa vs. Jeff Hughes

About the co-main combatants

A couple of tidbits, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Information:

  • After four fights at featherweight — he was finished in two and won decisions in the others — Michael Johnson (17-14) moves back to lightweight. With a win, Johnson would become the 21st fighter in UFC history to win 10 fights in the 155-pound division.

  • Stevie Ray (22-9) has lost three of his past four, but his six UFC wins tie him with Joanne Calderwood for the most by a Scottish fighter.

She’s not short on longevity

When Randa Markos steps into the Octagon to face Ashley Yoder in the strawweight feature prelim, it will be her 13th UFC fight, which will tie her with former 115-pound champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk for the second most among women’s fighters. Jessica Andrade, also an ex-champ at strawweight, leads with 16 fights.

Nickname of the night, um, morning

There’s “Braveheart” (Stevie Ray) vs. “The Menace” (Michael Johnson). There’s “Quiet Storm” (Randa Markos) vs. “The Spider Monkey” (Ashley Yoder). There’s “Kong” (Don’tale Mayes), “The Crank” (Frank Camacho) and “King of Kung Fu” (Muslim Salikhov). Going trilingual, there’s “El Fuerte” (Spanish for “The Strong,” the moniker of Peru’s Enrique Barzola) and “Bebezão” (Portuguese for “baby,” the nickname of Brazil’s Raphael Pessoa). There’s also a “Stitch,” and it’s Alexandra Albu, not famed boxing and MMA cutman Jacob Duran.

But all take a backseat to “The Crochet Boss.”

That’s the name heavyweight Maurice Greene goes by. It stems from him being hooked on the gentle textile craft, which the 6-foot-7, 255-pounder says he believes aids in his mental preparation for a fight.

“Before fights, [crocheting] keeps my hands busy,” Greene, who faces Sergei Pavlovich, told Newsweek earlier this year. “It keeps my mind off of dwelling over ‘how’s this position gonna play out?’ You have to be 100 percent focused on crocheting. I don’t have time to think about the fight.”

So Greene (8-2), whose 3-0 UFC record ties him with Francis Ngannou and Augusto Sakai for the longest active win streak at heavyweight, keeps his mind and hands occupied by crocheting hats — one of which “The Crochet Boss” gave to the UFC boss.

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