Bellator welterweight finalist Dan Hornbuckle talked to Bleacher Report about tonight's bout with Olympic wrestler Ben Askren:
"Well you're talking about American Top Team and if they don't have what you need they go out and get what you need," Hornbuckle said when asked to prepare for a wrestler of Askren's caliber.
"The caliber of wrestlers that we have at ATT is, in my opinion, better than Askren when it comes to competition. We've got guys in our corner who have followed, been through, and beaten Askren so we've got our ducks in a row where we are at right now.
"Am I prepared to fight from my back? Absolutely! We'll see how I fight from my back IF it gets there."
"When it comes to skill sets, I will never underestimate another athlete with his wrestling pedigree, but at the same time he has to combine that wrestling with what else?
"Ryan Thomas is a training partner of mine back home and it seemed like Thomas was giving him some fits on the ground so we will see how that holds out."
Ben Askren spoke to KansasCity.com:
(MMA is) something he's been working toward his entire life. Askren fell in love with the sport while watching it on TV growing up. His MMA aspirations further developed at Mizzou.
After wrestling practice Askren would work on jiu-jitsu with Tyron Woodley, a former Tigers wrestling coach and current MMA fighter.
"I got in there and just learned a few things," Askren said. "I definitely picked some things up from him. Whatever he had to offer, I took it. After wrestling, I figured I should get into it. I got a fight and just kept going."
His wrestling background, Askren said, proved ideal for his entry into MMA. Wrestlers are usually good at fighting standing up and on the ground, but Askren acknowledged he could improve his stand-up game. He met last week with a coach to receive some suggestions on his jiu-jitsu moves.
"(Hornbuckle's) a well-rounded fighter, but I don't think he's amazing. I think his record is padded by easy wins. He's going to have to step it up a level if he wants to beat me."
This is more than just a huge eliminator match between two of the hottest welterweight prospects on the circuit. Hornbuckle vs Askren is a classic example of the clash between a striker/grappler and a wrestler.
This style clash dates back at least to the two legendary bouts between Jose "Pele" Landi-Jons of Chute Boxe and Jorge "Macaco" Patino, one of the first Brazilian Jiu Jitsu fighters to really show strong wrestling skills. See the epic bouts here. Watch Macaco terrorizing the Brazilian circuit here.
Ever since Marco Ruas showed that combining a decent Muay Thai skill set with some solid submission grappling (in Ruas' case Luta Livre) could be a brutally effective combination in MMA, many fighters have chosen that road. Hornbuckle exemplifies the class. Others would include all the products of the legendary Chute Boxe camp: Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, Wanderlei Silva, Anderson Silva. But also UFC stalwarts like Carlos Condit and Martin Kampmann as well as former Strikeforce champ Gegard Mousasi.
These fighters are a threat to win anywhere the fight takes place, standing or on the ground.
But just as Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal showed Mousasi, when you can't control where the fight takes place, you can't always control the fight.
Askren is interesting because unlike Lawal or his Bellator compatriot Joe Warren, he isn't naturally a ground and pound fighter with some promise on the feet as a striker. Instead he has been adding submissions to his wrestling attack, earning a purple belt in jiu jitsu.
The wrestler/grappler style was perfected by Renato "Babalu" Sobral but Matt Hughes had the most success with the formula. Studying jiu jitsu under self-taught savant Jeremy Horn gave Hughes a deadly finishing arsenal to go with his slamming double leg take downs.
The best current exponent of the wrestler/grappler would be Jake Shields. Shields has shown that his extremely limited stand up skills don't stop him from being a top contender in MMA. Phil Davis is another wrestler going down this road.
Unfortunately for Askren, he's still fairly early on in that process despite the purple belt. As his bouts with Ryan Thomas showed, he's still fairly green in using his jiu jitsu in an MMA context, especially against another accomplished grappler. Hornbuckle is certainly that.
It's also interesting that both fighters have trained with American Top Team at various points. Askren I believe only with their mid-western outposts where he's coached wrestling.
Enjoy the show tonight, it's a fight that will determine not just the course of two very promising careers, but will also be another chapter in an ongoing clash of differing approaches to MMA.