Although he is universally recognized as one of the best cage competitors in the sport’s pound-for-pound rankings and one of the most dominant titleholders in ONE Championship history, Ben “Funky” Askren is not taking his next challenger for granted.
Askren will put his ONE Welterweight World Championship on the line against Zebaztian “The Bandit” Kadestam of Sweden in the main event of ONE CHAMPIONSHIP: SHANGHAI, which takes place at the 15,000-capacity Shanghai Oriental Sports Center in Shanghai, China on 2 September.
A late withdrawal opened up an opportunity for Kadestam to jump to the upper echelon of ONE Championship’s welterweight division.
After Vuyisile Colossa was forced to withdraw from his bout, Kadestam agreed to replace him on two weeks notice and test his mettle with former title challenger Luis “Sapo” Santos on the undercard of ONE: DYNASTY OF HEROES last May.
Kadestam made headlines when he defeated Santos as the little-known Swede had been completely dominated in the opening two rounds of the contest before pulling off a miraculous knockout in the final stanza.
“The Bandit” turned the tide midway of the third round by sprawling a sluggish takedown attempt from the Brazilian, then reversed position, and hammered his opponent with strikes from side control.
A pair of hard knees put the finishing touches as the referee stepped in to call a halt to the match at 2:18 of the third and final frame.
Kadestam’s astounding victory over Santos swiftly earned him a world title opportunity as he is set to lock horns with the toughest opponent of his professional career in Askren.
According to Askren, Kadestam’s shocking conquest of Santos caught his attention as he watched the bout in his dressing room while warming up for his match against Agilan “The Alligator” Thani, whom he defeated by way of first-round submission on the same card.
“He is tough and he is durable, and that showed in the match with Santos. He took some hard shots, but stayed in there and kept competing. Then, he was able to land the really big knee in the third round, which ended up finishing the match,” he said of Kadestam’s win over Santos.
Unlike the Olympian’s previous opponents, Kadestam is armed with a dangerous striking game as he possesses a top-shelf Muay Thai skillset with knockout power.
Even though he is considered as one the best welterweights in the world, Askren refused to undermine the capabilities of Kadestam.
“I cannot get lackadaisical on him, and I cannot stop putting the pressure on because obviously, he is really tough. He is big, he is strong, and he hits hard with both hands and knees. He is tough, he is durable, and he is going to stay in the match. He is not going to do something stupid and give it up easy and early. He is going to stick around until I put him out,” he stated.
Askren is planning to deploy his trademark strategy of relentless world-class wrestling to take his Swedish foe down to the mat.
Once on the ground, Askren expects to advance towards a more dominant position in hopes of securing a match-ending submission or continuously dropping ground strikes until the referee stops the bout.
“It does not matter what my opponent’s strengths and weaknesses are because at the end of the day, I have got the trump card. He cannot stop my wrestling, then he is going to be on his back, and he is going to get beaten up,” he explained.
“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. The other option is that I am going to make you tap,” Askren added.
For the past eight years, dating back to his professional debut in February 2009, his unstoppable strategy has worked brilliantly for Askren, who does not see any reason to stray from his strength.
“I am really effective at what I do. I never made a secret of it, and I always played to my strengths, and that is something a lot of people get away from. They do not play to their strengths, and I always play to my strengths, and I have been very focused and determined on what I do. So far, it has worked out well,” he shared.