As UFC octagon debuts go, Ben Askren’s is officially memorable. The Olympian, grappler, and winning MMA champ finally squashed his beef with Dana White enough to make it onto the UFC main stage against longtime brawler Robbie Lawler, doing so with a result no one saw coming.
From the moment the lights dimmed, the difference in approach to this fight between competitors was obvious. Askren entered to funk, smile on his face, visibly taking in his first UFC audience form the Octogon. Lawler, brooding and seething, walked in to Johnny Cash like this:
At the bell Askren shot immediately for an early double leg to arm drag, but Lawler reversed before surging into a massive takedown and landing a hail of strikes:
Askren held on and the ref circled, somehow making it back to his feet to square off with Lawler again.
It’s around the final 2 minutes where things get interesting again, when Askren sinks a bulldog choke. Lawler, chin tucked into Askren’s arm and face obscured appeared to stop defending the choke and possibly go out, at which point Herb Dean stopped the fight. As soon as Askren released the choke Lawler looked up, fully conscious and protesting the stoppage. To some, it seemed obvious that Lawler had gone out for a brief moment and come back, unaware he’s lost a flash of time. To others the choke was never successful and the entire stoppage was botched.
None the less, Askren was declared the winner of that high pressure debut, and proved in front of MMA’s biggest audience that he is every bit as tough as is necessary to be playing in the UFC.