LAS VEGAS — Ben Askren was nearly finished before he was started in his UFC debut. The former Bellator and ONE welterweight champion was slammed to the ground and was pummeled by Robbie Lawler in the opening seconds of their bout at UFC 235 Saturday at T-Mobile Arena.
Lawler opened a cut over Askren’s left eye and nearly stopped him. Referee Herb Dean moved in and appeared on the verge of stopping it.
“It took me a couple seconds there to get my wits about me,” Askren said in the cage.
Askren, a two-time NCAA wrestling champion at Missouri, showed his resilience. He survived that onslaught and then, a few moments later while grappling along the cage with Lawler, caught Lawler in a bulldog choke.
Lawler never tapped, but referee Herb Dean stopped it when Lawler’s arm appeared to go limp. As soon as Askren released the choke, Lawler jumped up to protest as the crowd howled.
“Go ahead and boo,” Askren said. “I’m not the referee. I’m just in there to fight.”
Askren’s debut came after years of back-and-forth with UFC president Dana White, who chided Askren for what he said was a boring style. But in October, White traded his former flyweight champion, Demetrious Johnson, to ONE for Askren, who had planned to retire.
But Askren, who entered the bout with an 18-0 record, showed against the former UFC welterweight champion that he has plenty more fight left in him.
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