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Ben Askren talks about "enigmatic" career, believes he was the best welterweight in the world

Ben Askren defended his ONE Championship welterweight title against Shinya Aoki on Friday. EPA/MARK R. CRISTINO

Ben Askren defeated Shinya Aoki in just 57 seconds on Friday in what he's said will be his final fight in mixed martial arts. The former NCAA wrestling champion has been oddly comfortable with his decision to walk away.

An undefeated champion, such as Askren (18-0), choosing to hang up his gloves is a rarity in combat sports. Fighters are usually forced out, one way or another. But Askren promised himself a long time ago that his career would end this way.

"I'm calculated. This has been in my head for 20 years," Askren told ESPN. "I read all these sports biographies as a kid, and the one thing that became apparent is that everybody stays too long, and everybody goes broke. So, I told myself I would never stay too long and I would never go broke."

The one exception Askren would make -- the one fight he would return for -- is one that would prove he's the No. 1 welterweight in the world. It's the one thing that's eluded him his entire career because it's only existed in the UFC. Askren met with the UFC as a free agent in 2013, but the sides couldn't come to terms.

Askren believes ONE will try to sign an opponent that would entice him back, but he genuinely believes Friday was his final walk.

"I think they'll actively look for it. I'm one of their biggest stars, and that would be a huge fight for them," Askren said. "The MMA landscape is changing, right? ONE is doing great. The UFC, by my estimation, is a ship without a rudder right now. Bellator's welterweight division is really good. The game is changing.

"If that opportunity were to come up, I'd immediately take it. I've asked them to go after free agents in the past. But in all honesty, I think this fight will be it."

Askren is perfectly content with that. He admits he has no idea how domestic fight fans will remember him. Within the Asian markets he's competed in the over past four years, he's a star. In working with welterweights such as Tyron Woodley, Jake Shields, Jon Fitch and Nick Diaz in the gym, he's very comfortable in his own head with how he stacked up.

"My career is enigmatic, for sure," Askren said. "There are people who just don't like me and say I suck, but there's no way you can say decisively I wasn't the best in the world. I'm in a weird place for most people. They don't really know where to put me.

"I haven't been given the chance to prove it, and MMA is a crazy sport, but I think I've been the best welterweight in the world since about 2012."

Askren's place in MMA will be debated for years, but don't be surprised if he rarely inserts himself into the conversation.

History suggests retired fighters have a hard time staying away, but Askren's focus has already started to divert to his three wrestling academies, the first of which he founded in 2011. Go figure, the kid who planned his retirement 20 years in advance, also has a post-competition career plan.

"For me, the feeling I get coaching is better than competition," Askren said. "I've been lucky enough to coach NCAA champions, and the feeling I got when they won was the same as when I won myself.

"Recently, it's been helping kids realize their dream. I had two kids recently in big tournaments, and they won that match where you just know. You know it and they know it -- where that match was their college scholarship. Like, they just won their college scholarship.

"For kids who have been dreaming of that for eight years, it's such a 'wow' moment. Honestly, those feelings are better than what I get when I win."