There may not be a more accomplished fighter outside the UFC than undefeated welterweight Ben Askren.
Askren, the one-time Olympian and two-time national champion out of Missouri, made waves in the MMA scene when he announced his intentions to turn pro in mixed martial arts after his amateur wrestling career concluded.
?Funky Ben? first burst onto the mainstream in April 2010 for the Viacom-owned Bellator. At the time, the four-time All-American only had three professional fights to his credit. However, given his incredible amateur wrestling background, the Hartland, Wisconsin native was a hot commodity and many thought UFC championship gold was all but assured.
Four fights later, in October of the same year, Askren was Bellator welterweight champion. By July 2013, Askren was a free agent, still undefeated at 12-0 and the Ultimate Fighting Championship was the next logical choice for the surging 170-pound powerhouse.
However, UFC president Dana White had a different take on Ben Askren:
“He’s a nice kid,? recounted White to USA Today after meeting with Askren in 2013. ?I’ve got nothing personal against him. He’s a nice guy. We just won’t be signing him.”
White said that Askren could go fight for rival promotion World Series of Fighting, where he could face ?actual competition.?
?I think it?s crazy that he?s ranked in the top 10. He hasn?t fought anybody and has no challenges. The best thing that could?ve ever happened to that kid was leaving Bellator. Now he has the opportunity to go to World Series of Fighting and show what he?s got.?
Well, Askren didn?t sign with WSOF. Instead, he signed with Asian promoter ONE FC and has since become their welterweight champ. The blossoming MMA promotion hosts their shows all over Asia, and has sponsorship deals in place with Disney/Marvel among others. And although Askren may not be getting the kind of North American exposure he would get in, say, the UFC, he is still undefeated.
Since becoming a free agent in 2013, Dana White?s tune has changed in regards to Askren ? no longer is Askren the ?nice kid,? but rather a ?moron.?
Whether it?s Askren?s continued winning, his incessant harassment of UFC fighters, or perhaps it’s his posturing in hopes of trying to score a bigger deal with the UFC, something rubbed the UFC president the wrong way. One could speculate that Askren leaving for a rival Asian promotion instead of a Las Vegas-based promotion like World Series of Fighting may have had something to do with it; after all, White did refer to WSOF by name and ONE FC as ?that Asian organization.?
At UFC 185 this weekend in Dallas, however, signs began pointing toward the UFC and camp Askren getting friendly. Perhaps the ?moron? was making an impression on UFC brass.
First came an Instagram post by Duke Roufus of a beaming Askren seated next to UFC matchmaker Joe Silva (seemingly equally as giddy).
Now, by itself, that may have been nothing more than coincidence ? maybe Ben Askren just likes poking the bear, having some fun with the UFC higher-ups, and Joe Silva is just a nice guy who doesn?t want to turn down a request for a picture, right?
Sure, that seems logical enough.
However, the tinfoil hats really came out during the UFC 185 pay-per-view broadcast when UFC announcers Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg referred to Askren, by name, on multiple occasions.
This is not normal practice for the UFC. Normally, in years’ past, when there is an unsigned free agent on the market, or a fighter making waves outside the organization, their name was rarely, if ever, brought up.
Think back to the years of Fedor Emelianenko in PRIDE/Strikeforce; you never heard a peep about ?The Last Emperor? on UFC broadcasts. The same went for Jake Shields and Gilbert Melendez when they were some of the most prized free agents on the scene during their respective runs of dominance.
The thinking was (and rightfully so, to an extent): if a fighter isn?t signed to the UFC and making us money, then why give them or their sheer existence any credence?
So, that begs the question: why were UFC pundits talking up Askren?s credentials. The most obvious speculation is, they were ?putting over? then-UFC lightweight champ Anthony Pettis.
Pettis trains with Askren at RoufusSport in Milwaukee and has long been a vocal proponent of bringing his buddy over to the Las Vegas-based promotion. However, the fact that the UFC crew mentioned Askren by name (coupled with the Joe Silva photo) got more than a few people wondering if something was in the works.
It?s an interesting situation to ponder.
On one hand, the UFC welterweight division doesn?t really need Askren. Yes, he?s undefeated, but the ?competition? assertion that White made back in 2013 is still valid today; Askren doesn’t have a top-15 win ? UFC rankings or otherwise.
To make matters worse, the UFC has a who?s who of proven, action-packed fighters on their welterweight roster ? champion Robbie Lawler, contenders Rory McDonald, Johny Hendricks, Tyron Woodley and Carlos Condit litter the top of the division. And let us not forget the speculation that divisional kingpin and legend Georges St-Pierre may return from his retirement at some point.
Add that to the fact that Askren would probably want a similar deal to the ones that the aforementioned Shields and Melendez received ? both men were granted immediate UFC title shots after being signed as free agents ? and you can?t blame Dana White for being skeptical.
Yes, Askren is undefeated, but he isn?t what Shields and Melendez were ? not even close. Both Shields and Melendez had records littered with top-10 victories, which was in part due to the MMA landscape of the time (more promotions, more competition) and in part because of their tenure as MMA veterans. They received immediate title shots upon their UFC arrivals because they were credentialed fighters with critical acclaim.
So, if Ben Askren is thinking about fighting a UFC contender or headlining a UFC PPV title fight in his debut, he’d be wise to re-evaluate his expectations.
With all that said, Askren is still a commodity. He?s an undefeated fighter, Olympian and two-time national champion. Sure, his style may leave something to be desired (Askren is typically thought of as a ?grinder,? a man who will wear you down in lieu of exciting fights), but he has managed to finish his last four opponents ? and Askren promises more to come.
To his credit, Askren, 30, remains on a steady warpath of harassment in his hopes of one day getting signed. While taking in the UFC 185 festivities over the weekend, Askren took some time to harass former collegiate nemesis and former UFC champ, Johny Hendricks.
Askren has gone after Hendricks and various UFC fighters before ? but, with all the talk this week of ?Funky? and his credentials, we are left to wonder: is something up?
Will Ben Askren finally be joining the UFC or does he need more substantial tests first?
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