On Friday, Nov. 24, ONE Championship returns to the Singapore Indoor Stadium in Kallang, Singapore, for ONE Championship: Immortal Pursuit.
In the night’s main event, welterweight champion Ben Askren looks to hang his gloves up as an undefeated fighter when he meets former ONE lightweight champ Shinya Aoki in the final fight of his career. Askren racked up 17 wins thus far in his stellar career, including victories over current Bellator welterweight king Douglas Lima and former titleholder Andrey Koreshkov. Aoki returns to the cage for the first time after his nine-fight winning streak was snapped by Eduard Folayang in his most recent bout in November of last year.
The co-headliner features a battle of strikers Adrian Pang and Amir Khan. Australia’s Pang looks to rebound following back-to-back losses to Roger Huerta and the previously aforementioned Folayang. Singapore’s Khan is riding a five-fight winning streak with stoppages in all five bouts, including four in the first round.
In the night’s main-card action, former title challenger and top atomweight Mei Yamaguchi looks to avenge a previous defeat to Gina Iniong. UFC veteran Leandro Issa takes on South Korean Dae Hwan Kim and undefeated Singaporean prospect Tiffany Teo takes on India’s Puja Tomar.
The preliminary card airs live at 6 a.m. ET on ONE Championship’s Facebook page. The main card continues via pay-per-view on Flo Combat at 7:30 a.m. ET.
Can Askren hang up the gloves as an undefeated champion, or will Aoki play spoiler?
The ONE welterweight kingpin will step away from the sport following his fight with Aoki as an undefeated fighter. Askren has dominated the large majority of the competition he has faced in his eight-year MMA career. Askren will be heavily favored to do the same in the final fight of his career.
Askren will carry a significant weight advantage heading into the contest. The welterweight division has a different upper threshold due to ONE Championship’s weight-cutting system. Instead of the standard 170-pounds that is typically used during welterweight contests worldwide, the ONE welterweight divisions features fighters who weight up to 83.9-kilograms or 184.9-pounds. Shinya Aoki is a fighter who has competed against large opponents before, but the former lightweight champion has fought as low as featherweight in his career. Despite all of the confusion, Askren will most likely be at least 10 to 15-pounds heavier than Aoki when the fighters step foot into the cage. That size discrepancy will play a factor in fight.
Askren is a true specialist. The wrestling pedigree he brings to the cage is far superior to that of his peers. In terms of fighters having one singular skill set and still being successful, Askren is up there with some of the best to do it. His wrestling game is the deciding factor in each and every one of his fights. Well, we will talk about the Luis Santos bout later, but every single win can be directly associated with Askren’s high-level grappling. Askren added a strong submission game to his already smothering top control and sheer grinding pace as his career progressed. Askren spent time training with Roufusport and Evolve MMA to work on his striking. However, the skill that always shined through in his fights was his wrestling.
Aoki is an excellent fighter in his own right. Aoki is a legend of Japanese MMA with fights (and wins) over some of the greatest fighters to ever grace the sport. The decorated champion is a specialist as well with the vast majority of his career wins coming by way of submission. An astounding 25 submission victories to be exact. It’s almost fitting that Aoki will be the man to send Askren off to his next endeavors on the anniversary of his first professional bout on Nov. 24, 2003. Unfortunately for Aoki, his 14-year career is winding down as well. Aoki will beat the large majority of competition he faces in ONE Championship, but this match-up with Askren will be a difficult obstacle to overcome. Askren’s wrestling will dictate when and where this fight takes place. Aoki has continued to improve on his striking game, but he will have trouble getting the space and time to be able to utilize his superior striking skills. Aoki’s best chance at getting the victory is hitting a submission in a transition or somehow hitting a reversal to a back take. The likelihood Askren makes a big mistake in his final bout seems unlikely.
Askren stops Aoki with strikes from the top position and retires as an undefeated champion with 18 wins, zero losses and one no-contest.
If Askren wins, where does his resume rank among the greats in the welterweight and middleweight divisions? How will Askren be remembered?
It took only three fights for Askren to get an opportunity in Bellator following an illustrious amateur wrestling career. “Funky” made his name known pretty quickly during the promotion’s eight-man welterweight tournament. Askren tapped Ryan Thomas in the opening round, then beat him again in the semifinals, and topped Sengoku veteran Dan Hornbuckle in the finals. Askren’s work earned him a shot at the Bellator welterweight champion Lyman Good.
Askren won his first major title with a 25-minute clinic against Good in only his seventh professional bout. Askren defended his title four times against the likes of Jay Hieron, Douglas Lima, Karl Amoussou and Andrey Koreshkov. Askren’s toughest fight in that stretch was a back-and-forth split decision over Hieron. However, Askren used his superior grappling to dominate the current Bellator champ Lima and he beatdown Koreshkov with ground and pound over the course of four rounds. This is the point where Askren’s career headed in a different direction.
Askren was undefeated and considered one of the best welterweights in the world. Unfortunately for the fans of the sport, Askren never found his way into the UFC to compete with the best fighters of his era. Now, I don’t believe you need to win a UFC title to be a legend. In fact, that seems like a pointless requirement at this point with the UFC’s current state of matchmaking. Level of competition is the most important requirement to become an all-time great. When Askren left Bellator to find a new deal, his resume was very strong for the time, but there were great fighters Askren never tangled with because he never stepped foot inside the Octagon. Maybe it was money, maybe it was Askren’s desires to pursue other ventures, or maybe it was Dana White’s stubbornness to sign a “boring” fighter.
Askren ended up signing with ONE Championship, which was looking for some new stars to build the promotion in its third year of existence. Askren quickly won the welterweight title in his second promotional bout with a first-round knockout of Nobutatsu Suzuki. Askren’s first title defense came against the one man to never be defeated when facing off with Askren, Luis “Sapo” Santos. The Brazilian’s dynamic kicking game and power brought many problems to Askren in the opening minutes of the bout. Santos was dominating the striking exchanges and fending off each and every takedown attempt, even reversing the two-time NCAA champion with ease. The fight never played out however, as Askren hit Santos with a thumb in the eye that halted the contest. The fight was ruled a no-contest. The rematch was scheduled to take place at ONE Championship: Pride of Lions. However, a plethora of issues arose and the bout ultimately didn’t happen. Askren picked up wins over Russian prospect Nikolay Aleksakhin, Malaysia’s Agilan Thani and Sweden’s Zebaztian Kadestam in his next three bouts.
Askren will be considered one of the best specialists to compete in MMA. Especially during this era of MMA where it is becoming increasingly important to be well-rounded in every aspect of the sport. His resume will be looked at critically as he never truly faced the best of the best in his division during his career. However, Askren leaves the sport as one of the most accomplished competitors in the welterweight division during the past decade.
Fight Card Predictions
Ben Askren vs. Shinya Aoki
Askren by knockout
Adrian Pang vs. Amir Khan
Pang by decision
Leandro Issa vs. Dae Hwan Kim
Issa by decision
May Ooi vs. Srey Khouch
Ooi by submission
Kai Wen Li vs. Ahmed Mujtaba
Li by decision
Tiffany Teo vs. Puja Tomar
Teo by submission
Mei Yamaguchi vs. Gina Iniong
Yamaguchi by decision
Arnaud Lepont vs. Richard Corminal
Lepont by knockout
Fei Yang vs. Muhammad Aiman
Aiman by decision
Li Tao Miao vs. Sim Bunsrun
Bunsrun by decision
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