Ben Askren’s history with Kamaru Usman goes all the way back to their time together at the Olympic Training Center in the early 2010’s, fresh off Usman’s run as an NCAA DII national champion and just as Askren was making the transition away from his Olympic career into MMA. And while there may not have been any beef between them back in the day, it seems that version of Usman – “Marty from Nebraska” – has firmly imprinted itself in Askren’s memory as his vision of the current welterweight champion.
The former Bellator and ONE Championship welterweight title holder (and brief UFC contender) spoke to ESPN about the upcoming championship bout between Usman and challenger Jorge Masvidal. It’s a fight that, as much as he may hate to admit it, Askren sees the ‘Nigerian Nightmare’ walking away from victorious (transcript via MMA Fighting).
“I hate saying it. It pains me to say it but yes, I think Usman is going to win and that’s so annoying,” Askren admitted.
“He goes to MMA and all the sudden he has this persona that he’s the hardest dude ever and he’s so cool, and it’s fake!” Askren explained, as to why he felt that Usman wasn’t clicking with fans as a star attraction. “Everyone sees that it’s fake! That’s why he can’t get fans, because we know it’s fraudulent. It’s not real and that’s why I was so annoyed. That’s not the dude that you were. You came to MMA and you thought you had to be this other person, and people are seeing through it. . . People don’t like fraudulence. They love it when people are authentic.”
As for what kind of authenticity does work for fans? Unfortunately for Askren, as much as he may claim that he “put the spotlight on” Jorge Masvidal by playing “the foil,” even he has to admit that the way ‘Gamebred’ handled himself surrounding his KO win over the longtime Roufusport fighter really connected with viewers.
“He says some of these things like ‘three-piece and a soda’ that maybe isn’t intentionally funny but it’s really authentic,” Askren said. “People love that when he says ‘F-ing super necessary,’ which I feel like he was kind of a douche for punching me when I was already unconscious. I thought that was unnecessary, but he says it was super necessary. And you know what, it is pretty funny. I was the dude that got punched and I’ll say, you know what, that was Jorge being real and that was kind of funny. Even though it was me and I thought he was a douchebag for punching me when I was unconscious, it was kind of funny. So, yes, there is a certain authenticity to Jorge that people really, really enjoy.”
UFC 251 goes down this Saturday, July 11th, in Abu Dhabi. Alongside the headlining bout between Usman and Masvidal, a featherweight title fight rematch between Alexander Volkanovski and Max Holloway is set for the co-main event. A bout for the vacant bantamweight title, between Petr Yan and Jose Aldo is also expected for the PPV card.