After coming out of retirement and swapping the Singapore-based One Championship to finally try his hand in the UFC, Ben Askren’s career in the octagon started as hoped. With an unblemished 18-0 record coming in, a first-round submission of former welterweight champion Robbie Lawler at UFC 235 last March signalled his intent in the division. But he lost his next two fights in bad fashion: a vicious, record-breaking flying knee knockout by Jorge Masvidal within five seconds in July, and three months later, being choked out by Demian Maia in the third round of a fight in which he appeared to be winning. A month later, in November, the American announced his retirement, citing a chronic hip injury that would require him to undergo replacement surgery. But saying goodbye to MMA has not stopped the “Funky” one from remaining just as busy outside the cage, if not more, to the point that he said he put off his hip surgery until next August. “I already have a lot going on,” Askren told the Post , reading off a laundry list of projects including opening his fourth and fifth wrestling academies along with his brother in the United States, creating a holding company and expanding his MMA podcast that was launched earlier this year. Askren’s world of business, which began well before his retirement, is, however, a happy ending in a sport littered with bad tales of retired fighters looking at an unclear future amid long-term injuries, possible mental health issues and, just as challenging, financial problems. “It can be a challenge for a fighter to find a similarly meaningful, highly focused pursuit in life post-fighting, which can be characterised by a lack of high stimulus activity leading to boredom, possibly low mood and depression,” said Claire Baxter, an Australian practising general psychologist who has a degree in sports psychology, and who also happens to be a former three-time Muay Thai world champion in Thailand. “Psychologists work with retired fighters to help them extract the parts of their fighter identity and to explore alternative careers and areas of life where they can give expression to these fundamental, core aspects of self and identity,” she said. Askren’s post-career business ventures, the seeds of which were planted in the midst of his career, have provided a cosy landing from a long and successful wrestling and MMA career that came to an abrupt close just now. He has advice for – or perhaps a warning to – other MMA fighters who will ultimately have to wrap it up: have a new game plan in place. “How many fighters and/or athletes do we see retire, then they have nothing else going on for them in their lives, so they’re forced to come back to fighting because they literally have no other way to make money,” Askren said. “We see that happen a lot, and so I always encourage athletes to start doing something before they retire, so that when they do retire they have a good idea of where they’re gonna go, and they’re not just twiddling their thumbs and end up fighting again in six months.” For many fighters around the world, however, Baxter says that retirement is often linked with the concept of identity foreclosure, which “occurs when an individual settles into a single identity, closing off any further exploration of other identities”. “The concept is meant to explain why some retired athletes have trouble moving on, developing a new career and finding meaning in their life,” she said. “It’s also meant to explain why some athletes fear retirement and delay it for as long as possible.” For his part, Askren neither dwelled upon nor delayed anything the second time it came to hanging up his gloves – except for his hip replacement surgery, that is, and for good reason. “I’m going to push my surgery [back], probably until August, due to the fact that when you do get it done, you’re kind of done-done for about six weeks, from my understanding, and I’m really busy with all the wrestling academies and the wrestling camps and stuff,” he said. “August, September, October will be our slow time, so I’m going to push to August and then, you know, hopefully heal up and then by the time we get busy again – late October, November – I’m full-steam, ready to go. So that is my plan.” Spoken like a true fighter.