From October 2018 (the month wherein the UFC traded Demetrious Johnson to ONE Championship for Ben Askren) to July 2019, you could not look anyplace with out seeing Askren.

He was the group’s breath of recent air. An undefeated, wrestling-heavy welterweight who wasted no time calling out nearly each fighter on the roster — to not point out the UFC’s president himself, Dana White.

By July 6, Askren’s reputation had reached a fever pitch. And had he defeated Jorge Masvidal that evening at UFC 239 in Las Vegas, possibilities had been he was headed straight to a shot on the 170-pound title.

Saturday’s UFC Struggle Night time principal occasion options two of the highest grapplers in MMA, with Demian Maia dealing with Ben Askren. Maia is looking for his third straight win, and Askren is aiming to rebound from his beautiful, five-second KO loss to Jorge Masvidal.

UFC Struggle Night time: Maia vs. Askren
• Saturday, Kallang, Singapore
Prelims: ESPN+, 5:30 a.m. ET
Principal card: ESPN+, Eight a.m. ET

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You wish to see how briskly issues change on this sport? Look no additional than Askren in October 2019.

In his personal phrases, Askren was climbing aboard a “rocket ship” over the primary eight months of his UFC profession. He was all over the place main as much as July 6 — after which nearly nowhere, comparatively talking, after dropping to Masvidal in a UFC-record five-second knockout.

Askren (19-1, 1 NC) returns to competitors Saturday when he meets Demian Maia (27-9) in the primary occasion of UFC Struggle Night time in Singapore. The occasion airs on ESPN+ at a nontraditional begin time of Eight a.m. ET for the primary card, 5:30 a.m. for the prelims.

Askren has mentioned repeatedly main as much as the bout that he believes his inventory will return to precisely the place it was with a superb efficiency towards Maia, who’s driving a two-fight win streak after dropping three straight in 2017 and early 2018.

Contemplating how briskly Askren fell out of the general public eye based mostly on one loss, it is exhausting to say he’s mistaken. His rise again to the highest might come simply as fast. For that to occur, nevertheless, he’ll must make a press release Saturday — each in his efficiency and on the mic afterward. And for a man who’s eager on benefiting from his time (he did not make his debut with the UFC till age 34), Askren won’t be capable to afford one other setback.

By the numbers

3-0: Profession report of Askren at Singapore Indoor Stadium, website of Saturday’s bout. These victories got here when “Funky Ben” was with ONE Championship. Total, he was 6-Zero with a no contest within the Asian promotion, with the entire fights going down exterior North America. Maia, in the meantime, has not competed exterior North and South America in 9½ years.

8: Rear-naked choke victories by Maia, essentially the most in UFC historical past.

5: Seconds that Askren’s most up-to-date struggle lasted. His knockout by the hands — or knee, somewhat — of Jorge Masvidal in July.

0: Important strikes landed by Askren in his two-fight UFC profession. He’s considered one of 4 fighters within the trendy period of the UFC to land zero important strikes of their first two fights, together with Darren Elkins, Tim Hague and Joe Veres. In Askren’s debut win over Robbie Lawler in March, he was outlanded 26-0, which is the best important strike differential for a fighter touchdown zero strikes, in line with UFC Stats.

30: UFC fights for Maia, most by a Brazilian fighter and tied for fourth most general in promotion historical past.

Supply: ESPN Stats & Data

A glance again

Ben Askren received his first match in males’s freestyle wrestling on the 2008 Olympics however didn’t place on the medal stand. David Eulitt/Kansas Metropolis Star/Tribune Information Service/Getty Photographs

5 vs. 5

Demian Maia’s most up-to-date outcomes
Anthony Rocco Martin (MD, June 29)
Win: Lyman Good (SUB2, Feb. 2)
Loss: Kamaru Usman (UD, Might 19, 2018)
Loss: Colby Covington (UD, Oct. 28, 2017)
Loss: Tyron Woodley (UD, July 29, 2017)

Ben Askren’s most up-to-date outcomes
Loss: Jorge Masvidal (KO1, July 6)
Win: Robbie Lawler (TechSUB1, March 2)
Win: Shinya Aoki (TKO1, Nov. 24, 2017)
Win: Zebaztian Kadestam (TKO2, Sept. 2, 2017)
Win: Agilan Thani (SUB1, Might 26, 2017)

Combating phrases

“That is actually the primary time in my aggressive profession the place I’ve really needed to fear about grappling. Earlier than, considered one of my coaches was like, ‘Effectively, you type of quit this and that.’ And I am like, ‘Yeah, that is as a result of I do know that the opposite guys suck and I do not actually have to fret about it an excessive amount of.'”
–Askren, talking at a UFC information convention in Singapore final month

Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz, frenemies from SoCal who introduced thousands and thousands of followers to combined martial arts and supercharged the UFC. Watch on ESPN+

“All the fighters that I struggle, they wish to simply strike, they wish to sprawl, they wish to keep away from takedowns, they wish to keep away from grappling. Ben represents wrestling, a grappling artwork, like I do. At this level of my profession, that is very thrilling. It is attention-grabbing for me and my staff, this problem proper now. I just about carry the flag of jiu-jitsu, and he carries the flag of wrestling. … It is not only a problem of types, it is a struggle that’s uncommon these days, the place the fighters symbolize one thing, get up for one thing.”
–Maia, on the similar information convention

Movie research

Faucet, faucet, faucet …

Brett Okamoto’s prediction

I am going Askren right here. Maia has beat some very gifted wrestlers in his profession, however when he goes towards the easiest of them, notably lately (Tyron Woodley, Colby Covington, Kamaru Usman), he has struggled. Tremendously. Maia’s performances haven’t fallen off a cliff, as his two-fight win streak suggests, however he’s 41 years outdated. A five-round struggle favors the youthful Askren, for my part. I feel it can go the gap, however there’s additionally an opportunity we might see Maia completed for less than the second time in his profession. Askren by way of choice.

Ready within the wings

A bunch of men who’re going to wish to simply stand and bang. Does anybody within the UFC wish to go to the canvas with both of those guys?

What else to search for … past the primary occasion

The remainder of the cardboard, co-main occasion down:

ESPN+, Eight a.m. ET
Light-weight: Michael Johnson vs. Stevie Ray
Light-weight: Frank Camacho vs. Beneil Dariush
Heavyweight: Ciryl Gane vs. Don’story Mayes
Welterweight: Muslim Salikhov vs. Laureano Staropoli

ESPN+, 5:30 a.m.
Strawweight: Randa Markos vs. Ashley Yoder
Light-weight: Alex White vs. Rafael Fiziev
Males’s featherweight: Enrique Barzola vs. Movsar Evloev
Heavyweight: Sergei Pavlovich vs. Maurice Greene
Strawweight: Loma Lookboonmee vs. Alexandra Albu
Heavyweight: Raphael Pessoa vs. Jeff Hughes

Concerning the co-main combatants

A few tidbits, courtesy of ESPN Stats & Data:

  • After 4 fights at featherweight — he was completed in two and received selections within the others — Michael Johnson (17-14) strikes again to light-weight. With a win, Johnson would change into the 21st fighter in UFC historical past to win 10 fights within the 155-pound division.

  • Stevie Ray (22-9) has misplaced three of his previous 4, however his six UFC wins tie him with Joanne Calderwood for essentially the most by a Scottish fighter.

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She’s not brief on longevity

When Randa Markos steps into the Octagon to face Ashley Yoder within the strawweight function prelim, it will likely be her 13th UFC struggle, which can tie her with former 115-pound champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk for the second most amongst ladies’s fighters. Jessica Andrade, additionally an ex-champ at strawweight, leads with 16 fights.

Nickname of the evening, um, morning

There’s “Braveheart” (Stevie Ray) vs. “The Menace” (Michael Johnson). There’s “Quiet Storm” (Randa Markos) vs. “The Spider Monkey” (Ashley Yoder). There’s “Kong” (Don’story Mayes), “The Crank” (Frank Camacho) and “King of Kung Fu” (Muslim Salikhov). Going trilingual, there’s “El Fuerte” (Spanish for “The Sturdy,” the moniker of Peru’s Enrique Barzola) and “Bebezão” (Portuguese for “child,” the nickname of Brazil’s Raphael Pessoa). There’s additionally a “Sew,” and it is Alexandra Albu, not famed boxing and MMA cutman Jacob Duran.

However all take a backseat to “The Crochet Boss.”

That is the identify heavyweight Maurice Greene goes by. It stems from him being hooked on the light textile craft, which the 6-foot-7, 255-pounder says he believes aids in his psychological preparation for a struggle.

“Earlier than fights, [crocheting] retains my palms busy,” Greene, who faces Sergei Pavlovich, informed Newsweek earlier this 12 months. “It retains my thoughts off of dwelling over ‘how’s this place gonna play out?’ You must be 100 p.c centered on crocheting. I haven’t got time to consider the struggle.”

So Greene (8-2), whose 3-Zero UFC report ties him with Francis Ngannou and Augusto Sakai for the longest energetic win streak at heavyweight, retains his thoughts and palms occupied by crocheting hats — considered one of which “The Crochet Boss” gave to the UFC boss.