CHICAGO (December 9, 2009) – Bellator Fighting Championships announced Wednesday the signing of highly touted MMA prospect Ben Askren to an exclusive long-term agreement.
Askren is a U.S. Olympian who competed in the 2008 Beijing Games in freestyle wrestling. While wrestling at the collegiate level at the University of Missouri, Askren won two NCAA Division I titles. Since announcing his plans to cross over into professional mixed martial arts after the conclusion of the Beijing Games, Askren has been one of the most sought-after free agents in the sport.
Known for his unorthodox fighting style and world class credentials, Askren, 25, is slated to compete in Bellator’s welterweight (170 lbs.) division tournament. The promotion will kick off its second season on April 8, 2010 and will conduct eight-man tournaments in the featherweight (145 lbs.), lightweight (155 lbs.), welterweight (170 lbs.), and middleweight (185 lbs.) divisions to determine the No. 1 ranked challengers to face Bellator’s current champions.
In February 2009, Askren, who is known as “Funky,” made his professional MMA debut and has since compiled an undefeated record of 3-0. MMAJunkie.com has labeled him as “one of the top prospects in all of mixed martial arts,” while BloodyElbow.com called his abilities “mesmerizing.”
“I am very happy to welcome Ben to Bellator,” said Bjorn Rebney, founder and CEO of Bellator Fighting Championships. “Ben’s an exciting fighter with unlimited potential and an unparalleled list of Olympic and collegiate accomplishments. We believe he can become a true force in this sport. As an MMA fan, I can’t wait for Ben’s first fight in our tournament on FOX Sports Net, NBC and Telemundo this April.”
As the nation’s top MMA prospect, Askren joins a Bellator roster that includes elite fighters such as Eddie Alvarez (155 lbs. champion), Hector Lombard (185 lbs. champion), Lyman Good (170 lbs. champion), Joe Soto (145 lbs. champion) and many others.
Askren’s signing is the latest in a series of major offseason Bellator announcements that include the promotion’s historic new TV distribution alliance with FOX Sports Net, NBC and Telemundo. Bellator Season 2 begins April 8, 2010 and will run for 12 weeks. It will be followed by Bellator Season 3, which is slated to begin on Aug. 12, 2010 and will also run for 12 successive weeks.
Askren said the national TV alliances were a key factor in his decision to sign with Bellator.
“I like that my fights are going to broadcast nationally, I like the tournament-style format and I love the opportunity to be a part of something exciting and new,” he said. “I plan on winning Bellator. My goal, as it always has been, is to be the best in the world.”
Askren, who was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and grew up outside of Milwaukee, Wis., now lives in Phoenix and trains at the renowned Arizona Combat Sports gym. In addition to the wrestling techniques he honed at the collegiate and Olympic levels, he holds a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.
Askren is also engaged to be married on April 9th, one day after Bellator’s Season 2 premiere.
“My fiancé doesn’t really like the whole getting punched in the face thing, but she accepts it and is excited for me to continue to compete in MMA for Bellator.”
Each of Bellator’s 24 fights during Seasons 2 and 3 will be distributed live in primetime on Thursday nights on FOX Sports Net and its regional sports network affiliates. The top moments from each week’s live events will then be condensed into an action-packed 30-minute highlight show, broadcast every Saturday night, late night, on NBC. A one-hour highlight show will air in Spanish on Telemundo every Saturday night from midnight to 1 a.m. Each of the three broadcasts will be aired in high definition.