Along with the usual pre-fight threats, ONE Championship welterweight champion Ben Askren had to add a thank you to upcoming opponent Agilan Thani.
After all, Thani (7-0) did what others apparently were unable or unwilling to do – sign a contract.
“Part of my time off was due to other opponents failing to – although they said in the media they wanted to fight – sign the contract to step in the cage,” said Askren (15-0) during a teleconference in support of his meeting Thani at “ONE Championship 55: Dynasty of Heroes.” “I do really appreciate Agilan’s willingness to step in the cage, and frankly, that’s what being a fighter is all about. It’s about when your opportunity comes, you sign the contract and step in the cage to fight someone.”
“ONE Championship 55: Dynasty of Heroes” takes place May 26 at Singapore Indoor Stadium. The event streams live via internet pay-per-view on the promotion’s website.
It wasn’t Askren’s choice to sit on the sidelines for one year. But he didn’t have much of a choice when a title defense this past fall against Vitaly Bigdash was canceled initially by the death of Thailand’s king, Bhumibol Adulyadej. Then it was called off when Bigdash wouldn’t agree to reschedule.
“I don’t know why he changed his mind, but he changed his mind,” said ONE Championship CEO Victor Cui. “It just seems like we had a round of bad luck and poor timing. We hope to see him more active this year, and I think we’re on track for that.”
Cui previously has found himself in an awkward position trying to get Askren in the cage. A scheduled title defense against Luis Santos at ONE Championship 32 was canceled when Sapos came in heavy and then refused to compete at a catchweight.
It hasn’t been an easy road for the champ, who said he has a lot of ground to make up. Undoubtedly, the time off has done him no favors physically or financially.
“I really need to be more active this year,” Askren said. “Obviously, I’m 32 years old now, and I am getting a little bit older, and I’ve been fairly inactive for the last few years, so I need to have a lot of fights this year, and hopefully ONE is going to provide that for me.”
Thani is the first offering since the run of bad luck. Undefeated in seven pro fights, the Malaysian fighter is undoubtedly the underdog heading into a fight with Askren, whose record remains spotless after 15 outings. But the champ said he’s taking his opponent seriously.
Askren cited his experience as an underdog in a Bellator meeting with Dan Hornbuckle as the reason fans shouldn’t count out Thani.
“Everyone wrote me off,” he said. “I think I was a 6-1 underdog, and I went in there and beat the tar out of him, and that was the start of my career. Although (Agilan) might be an underdog, I am not taking this fight lightly.”
Still, when Askren finally gets in the cage after an unwanted break, he has no plans on treating his opponent any differently than others.
“Ag, you’ve got about four-and-a-half weeks until you’re in the cage with me,” he said. “I’m just going to tell you like I’ve told the rest of my opponents, this is the scary truth: I will come across the cage, I will grab you, I will put you on your back, and I will punch you until you ask the referee to stop me from doing so. So enjoy the next four-and-a-half weeks weeks.
“I hope you enjoy the challenge. It’s only four-and-a-half weeks and a few minutes until you’re on your back.”
For more on “ONE Championship 55: Dynasty of Heroes,” check out the MMA Rumors section of the site.
Filed under: News
View full post on News | MMAjunkie