When Bellator MMA allowed reigning welterweight champion Ben Askren to walk away from the promotion last year, many fans of MMA were up in arms. Askren was a legit top-10 welterweight, undefeated, and a fantastic wrestler. However, Bellator, under then-CEO Bjorn Rebney, chose not to sign him, and belittled his fighting style publicly (possibly a bargaining move to drive down his value to competitors).
Bellator also opted to waive their matching period with Askren so that he could speak to other promotions right away, primarily the UFC.
Speak to the UFC Askren did, but no signing came of it, and the best welterweight outside of the UFC was left fuming, calling Dana White a “bald-headed fat man” and putting the lack of a deal on him. White, meanwhile, insisted that Askren take some fights elsewhere, not wanting to give Bellator legitimacy by signing another one of their champions. He pushed Askren towards the WSOF, which has allowed many fighters to leave for the UFC prior to their contracts being up, but like a stubborn mule Askren instead went to Asia’s top MMA promotion ONE FC, who offered him solid money over a reported six-fight deal.
Two fights into that deal, Ben Askren is now the ONE FC welterweight champion, and White is singing a different tune. When asked post-fight at UFC 177 about Askren, White stated that “I think if he keeps winning, he could get a shot over here.” He then went on to state that despite things said in the media when it comes to fighters, he’ll work with them anyway, pointing out that Tito Ortiz, who he admittedly cannot stand, came back to the organization for a second run.
For his part, Askren does not seem all that impressed, tweeting:
Oh thank you master @danawhite can I please have a shot
He expanded on the MMA Hour on Tuesday, saying that the UFC situation was like being excluded by the cool kids in school, only the later have them become impressed and ask you to join up with them. According to Askren, if you’ve got some self-esteem, you ask why they didn’t want you all along.
With Askren making good money in ONE FC and with several fights left on his contract, he actually has more leverage now than he did as Bellator’s reigning champion, something the UFC may not have foreseen.
Without him, there will always be those who claim the UFC’s welterweight division isn’t complete, and while they can get away with not signing him given their overall roster depth, White looks more foolish than ever for not snatching up the undefeated star when he had the chance.