In the latest sign that mixed martial arts is attracting an increasing number of world-class athletes, the Olympic wrestler Ben Askren has decided to turn pro in MMA.
Askren won two NCAA wrestling championships at Missouri and is one of only two two-time winners of the Dan Hodge Trophy, which is the wrestling equivalent of the Heisman. He then made the U.S. Olympic wrestling team and reached the quarterfinals in his weight class in Beijing.
Now Mike Chiappetta of NBC Sports reports that he's working with American Top Team and plans to make his MMA debut in early 2009.
"Obviously his pedigree and his base is tremendous," said American Top Team general manager Richie Guerriero. "Not only his wrestling base, but his work ethic, his history of competition and mental mindset. He brings more than just a wrestling base to the sport. It's not something you can teach. He's been a competitive athlete since a kid, and the mental aspect is a big part of the sport of MMA."
It's not yet known which MMA promotion will sign Askren, but he'll be a highly sought prospect. He's the second significant Olympian to announce his intentions to become a professional MMA fighter recently, following on the heels of Japanese judo gold medalist Satoshi Ishii, who is likely to start fighting for Dream in 2009.