Ben Askren looks set to sign for the UFC and with that, an entire career’s worth of questions will be answered as he finally competes against the very best in the game in the world’s premier MMA promotion.
If you aren’t aware of Askren before seeing yesterday’s reports linking him to an unprecedented swap deal that would see him join the UFC, then you might have responded with some understandable confusion.
I’m going to do my best to explain why this is such a big deal, why the UFC have all of a sudden decided to make this move and above all else, why Askren is a threat to the UFC’s welterweight division.
Why make a swap between your most successful champion in history and a 34-year-old grappler who isn’t exactly going to break PPV records?
This is a question I’m still struggling with.
It’s clear that Johnson was underappreciated by the UFC, despite clearly being amongst the greatest to ever do it. Even still though, he was the world’s top P4P number 1 just one fight ago and the flyweight division was looking set to finally have a historically significant showdown as he rematched Henry Cejudo in their trilogy fight.
The only reason I can see for this deal being made is that Demetrious himself pushed for it.
Recently, when there were talks of a super-fight showdown between him and TJ Dillashaw, DJ instead expressed his desire to compete in other organisations and become a flyweight champion outside of the UFC.
It was an odd comment at the time but now, it should be read as the first hint that not all was well between Mighty Mouse and his employers.
So what’s the deal with Ben Askren?
Askren has been cited as the sport’s greatest fighter outside the UFC for years.
As a former Bellator champion who holds dominant wins over top-tier fighters such as Douglas Lima and Andrey Koreshkov and a former ONE FC champion, he has never once tasted defeat inside the cage.
When it comes to the ‘Funky’ one, the name of the game is wrestling. He represented Team USA in the 2008 Olympics and was a four-time All American in college.
Not only is he not known for his striking skills, but in the style of an old-school specialist like Royce Gracie, he actively tailors his game to work to his strengths and avoid risk.
This means he has gone through his career having absorbed very little damage and for the most part, has been able to impose his will for almost all of the time he has spent inside the cage.
He certainly has a reputation as something of a ‘boring fighter’ but it’s important to note that in his last eight wins, seven of them have come by way of stoppage – five TKO’s and two submissions.
It is true that the standard of opposition he was facing in ONE FC was sub-par to a certain extent, but like a Demian Maia or a Khabib Nurmagomedov this guy’s technique is undeniable, make no mistake!
So if he’s that good, why haven’t the UFC made the move to sign him?
This is the confusing part.
Basically, when Askren was signed the Bellator and reigned over their welterweight division, he negotiated to be released from his contract when the UFC announced their interest in signing him.
Upon securing his release from Bjorn Rebney – who was the head honcho at Bellator at the time – Dana White then made it clear publically that the UFC were no longer looking to make the deal happen.
Of course, this left Ben in an awkward situation. So he flew to Vegas to speak the UFC brass and get to the bottom of things. He was offered a contract by the UFC, a deal he was not entirely happy with – one that included a bizarre clause that would force him to fight one bout under the now-defunct World Series of Fighting banner.
He admitted he was confused by this but agreed to it nonetheless. Six hours later, he was told that deal was no longer available.
Askren spoke to Joe Rogan during his appearance on his podcast earlier this year and explained how comments he had made in the past about Dana, the UFC, and their stance on drug-testing (at the time) may have contributed to the UFC president’s dislike for him.
Judging by tweets like these, I’d say he wasn’t too far off the mark.
— Dana White (@danawhite) April 16, 2012
Watch Askren’s take on the situation below:
Speaking on his own podcast during a later episode, Rogan expressed his desire to act as a mediator between White and Askren with the aim of just getting a deal done.
People have wanted to see this guy in with the world’s very best for years and Joe Rogan is no different.
“I’ve talked to [Dana] about it in the past. I think if Ben and him sat down and I could be there, maybe I could help. I’d do that. I’d 100% be willing to do that.
“For me, it’s a no-brainer. You want to see the best versus the best, and he’s been able to do weird sh-t to people. He’s f**king super articulate, super smart, f**king great guy.
“I don’t know jack s**t about promotion. I could be wrong. I might just be such a purist that I want the best to fight the best so much that I don’t give a f**k what it looks like.”
He entered a state of semi-retirement after beating the legendary Shinya Aoki in November of last year and made it perfectly clear that he would only return if he was getting an opportunity to face the best welterweight in the world.
Whether or not that happens remains to be seen but either way, one of MMA’s most heavily-debated ‘what ifs’ is close to finally being answered.
Ben Askren is on his way to Ultimate Fighting Championship at last!
Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena