Ben Askren’s UFC debut may have seen him record a hard-fought win over a legendary veteran, but its controversial finish may well see the fight run back before too long.
Going into the card, the UFC debut of Ben Askren was seen as perhaps the most eagerly anticipated promotional debut in years and the tension to be felt in the T-Mobile Arena during the walkouts was ridiculous.
One look at the face of Lawler said it all.
— UFC (@ufc) March 3, 2019
And for a while, things seemed to be going to plan for the former-champion.
He caught the masterful grappler Askren and lifted him over his head in a stunning sequence that ended with a brutal display of ground-and-pound about 15 seconds into the fight – completely flipping our preconceived notions about this matchup on our heads.
— The MMA Bible (@TheMMABible) March 4, 2019
The fight could well have been stopped there and but against all odds, Ben was able to recover sufficiently, reverse position, regain control and sink in a fight-ending Bulldog choke just minutes later.
Unfortunately, the consciousness of Lawler was seemingly misread by referee Herb Dean – who jumped in to save the veteran after he went out from Askren’s sub, something that was later proven to be a divisive call.
"That was a bad stoppage."
"What a disappointing way to end this fight."
— UFC on BT Sport (@btsportufc) March 3, 2019
Lawler himself was admirable in the fight’s aftermath, citing the timeless fact that s**t happens.
“S**t happens in there sometimes. Sometimes there’s mistakes being made. Herb checked on me, and when he checked on me, I gave the thumbs up, and he came in there.
“I couldn’t hear him talking because how the choke was on. I’m not going to just dangle a hand there, so I just put it down, and then when he checked, I gave him the thumbs up.
“Looked right at him and I was like, ‘Hey man, s**t. I’m good. It happens. He’s a hell of a ref. He just made a mistake.” (via MMAJunkie)
UFC commentator Joe Rogan (alongside Brendan Schaub) gave his own take on the finishing sequence on a recent edition of his podcast The Joe Rogan Experience.
“Check this out. Look at the arm.
“That’s not a normal movement.
“But Robbie does give a thumbs up. It’s not a normal movement but it’s a tight squeeze, it does look like his arm went limp.
“What Herb is saying is that he told Askren to stop when the arm went limp. When the arm went limp, Ben said that [Robbie] lightened up and then came back to life.
“That is entirely possible.”
First of all, if you’re blaming Ben Askren for the uncertainty surrounding the stoppage and discounting the fact that he managed to turn a seriously bad position underneath Lawler into an incredibly dangerous one just a minute or two later, you’re wrong to do so.
Blame the ruleset.
Blame Herb for the call if you disagree that strongly.
Even blame Robbie for losing his dominant position.
Do any of those things before you blame Ben Askren for completely changing this fight’s momentum after sustaining some serious damage.
Famed Gracie Breakdown hosts Rener and Ryron Gracie believe that Robbie Lawler was just seconds away from unconsciousness no matter what happened next.
Their breakdown can be watched in full below:
Nevada State Athletic Commission executive director Bob Bennett sided with the referee his commission appointed to the fight and despite praising Lawler for the manner in which he handled the stoppage, made it clear that he believed him to be out.
”In this particular question with the bulldog choke on Robbie, you could see it right in front of us that when Herb picked up his hand, his hand just dropped. It just dropped, which would be indicative of him being out. And then [Dean] went ahead and grabbed his hand again and it came up a little and it moved ever so slightly. There was no doubt in our mind that he was out.
”With the Nevada State Athletic Commission, our number one priority is the health and safety of the fighter. In our pre-brief fights, I specifically instruct the referees to make sure we stop the fight one punch or one kick sooner than later. In the interest of the health and safety of the fighter, Robbie’s a phenomenal warrior, he’s been in the business for a long time. He was clearly out.
”I can tell you right now as the executive director and on behalf of the commission, no one had a problem with that.” (via MMAMania)