It’s been interesting to see the back and forth since Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney made the surprising announcement last month that the organization likely wouldn’t make an offer to welterweight champion Ben Askren now that his contract is expired.
Despite his perfect record, it is clear that Bellator prefers the type of fights like we saw this past weekend with the exciting middleweight title slugfest between champion Alexander Shlemenko and challenger Brett Cooper, than it does Askren’s traditional grind-them-out beatdowns.
Rebney has talked about how he believes Askren would do very well in the UFC, and would actually look forward to seeing him fight UFC welterweight champ Georges St.Pierre in a matchup of the two best wrestlers in MMA. However, UFC President Dana White, who admittedly is not a big fan of Askren’s style and despises Rebney even more, believes that if and when they make an offer for his services, that Bellator will elect to match.
He’s of the opinion that the situation will be handled the same way that they dealt with former lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez when he tested the free agent waters. White believes Rebney’s ploy in all of this is to keep Askren’s asking price down.
Alvarez was courted by the UFC, but Bellator maintained they had matched the UFC offer so he should remain within their fold. Alvarez disagreed, and so the courts were brought into the ugly, contractual mess.
After being sidelined a year, Alvarez finally buried the hatchet with Bellator and will be part of their first-ever PPV offering. He’s going to fight Michael Chandler, the man who dethroned him, in a highly anticipated rematch in November.
It’s hard to envision Askren staying with Bellator but then again, crazier things have happened. No one saw Alvarez returning to Bellator. In Askren’s case, after wiping out all contenders to his Bellator championship, he has gone on record as saying the only challenges left are in the UFC.
While Askren was utterly dominant in every fight for Bellator, he’s just not an exciting fighter, which is why they seem at ease with the talk of him walking way. His fights also weren’t all that well received by fans in attendance.
To be fair, the standout Missouri wrestling product has gotten better in the ground-and-pound game in his last few fights, including dominant TKO stoppages of Andrey Koreshkov and Karl Amoussou. He won the title in just his seventh pro bout against Lyman Good, and also recorded victories over Jay Hieron and Douglas Lima.
Strikers all thought they had the answer for Askren, but they found out that dealing with a cardio animal whose wrestling skills are second to none ended up being a losing proposition.
It remains to be seen whether the UFC makes a serious pitch for Askren. Despite his very one-dimensional style, he should be viewed as a welcome addition as someone who is that talented and available. The thing that Askren will find out, though, is that there are a lot more well-rounded fighters within the UFC’s 170-pound landscape than what he had to deal with in Bellator.
It has been puzzling to see Bellator make public their seeming lack of interest in one of the most dominant fighters in their history. Askren, along with Chandler, would be in that conversation; and while Chandler will figure prominently in their first-ever pay-per-view show, Askren will not.
It seems odd that Bellator would be so quick to scoop up UFC castoffs like Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Tito Ortiz and Cheick Kongo while allowing one of their champions to move along.
No one has said Askren’s style is an exciting one, but it is clearly a winning one. At a perfect 12-0 there wouldn’t be any reason for him to change his approach, wherever he ends up. At this stage, where he resumes his career remains an intriguing storyline.
Rick LaFitte is an MMA Writer for Rant Sports