To those in know, there was a certain inevitability to the result in the Beat The Streets NYC headlining showcase between Jordan Burroughs and Ben Askren.
Both men had represented Team USA in the Olympic Games in the past, but each of these world-class athletes had taken a very different career trajectory in the time since.
While one made the switch to the multi-faceted world of mixed martial arts, the other stuck to his guns and dominated the sport he grew up in – skyrocketing his way into the pantheon of greats within wrestling.
Given the nine years that Ben has spent carving out his unbeaten career in MMA, matching him up with a world-champion level athlete of Burroughs’ quality under any other circumstances would have been a complete and utter mismatch.
And yet, Monday’s showdown was perfect in so many ways.
The contest itself wasn’t competitive in the slightest but for a short while, the eyes of the combat sporting world – both wrestling and MMA – were locked on a benefit show set up to cultivate youth development in underserved communities.
Burroughs, of course, handed Askren very little in the way of a shot – running out in dominant fashion by a score of 11-0, ending the match by technical fall.
But it didn’t matter all that much. He knew he would win. Ben knew he would win. We all knew he would win.
Taking to his social media platforms in the direct aftermath of last Monday’s showcase, Burroughs paid respect to his fellow wrestling icon – and in one memorable section of the statement, revealed what Askren had said to him in the match’s direct aftermath.
“Stepping up to a challenge doesn’t mean just saying yes when you know you can win but saying yes even when you know that you could get your butt kicked.”
I’m sure there was some part of Askren that believed he would be able to shock the world but in truth, what I’m getting at here is simple.
Ben’s stock is at an all-time high within the MMA world.
In July, he will step into the biggest fight of his career – a UFC 239 showdown with Jorge Masvidal that could well propel him into a title-shot if he emerges victorious.
In the last few months, he has become one of the most popular stars in the UFC – taking full advantage of his long-awaited opportunity in the big leagues after a career spent dominating on the international scene while being plagued by the great ‘what if?’ that followed him no matter where he went.
Askren has arrived to mainstream MMA in a massive way – and in many ways, his earning potential is directly linked to his popularity with the everyday fan – the type of fan who wouldn’t understand why he was always doomed to lose to an active wrestler of Burroughs’ credentials.
And yet, two months out from UFC 239, knowing full well that he could hurt either his body or his reputation, he stepped in there and took one for the team.
Speaking post-match alongside Burroughs, Askren explained how delighted he was to see a packed venue for both the showcase of wrestling on the night and the important, worthwhile cause that brought them all together.
“I was standing in the crowd, waiting to come down and take my ass-whooping. Hot damn! It’s May 6, on a Monday and there’s 5,000 people in this theatre here to see some wrestling.”
“I thought there was a chance I might get a takedown, I wasn’t under the delusion that I was going to beat him. But he came a little harder than I thought he was going to come.”
At one point early on in the match, Askren was vaulted off the stage completely and going into this one, he would have no doubt been aware that an injury could have derailed his mixed martial arts ambitions in July completely.
And yet, he did it anyway – against a powerful double-leg artist like Burroughs who came with all of the intensity you would expect of him.
Who knows how many eyes Ben was able to bring over from the world of mixed martial arts but I have to say that I am in complete admiration of his decision to take this match.
Burroughs echoed these sentiments in his recent statement, thanking Askren for jumping back into a sport he hadn’t competed in for several years for a matchup that was practically unwinnable.
“Thank you for your willingness to put your reputation, and more importantly, your health on the line for the sake of the sport that bred you.
“For a few hours, the wrestling and MMA worlds stood still, and together, and wondered if you’d be able to – as you’ve done many times in the past – shock the world. But instead, you got double-legged, more than once.
“All jokes aside, this match truly wasn’t about winning or losing, but rather supporting young kids in need and growing our sport.
“Because of your willingness to step toe-to-toe with me, countless new eyes have been drawn to wrestling.”
We had the opportunity to chat with Burroughs at length last week about his own thoughts on the matchup with Askren, his ongoing feud of sorts with Chael Sonnen, as well as the potential of a switch to MMA.
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena