Ben Askren is headed to the Octagon, or at least it seems that way.
In an interview with Josh Gross of ESPN.com, Bellator MMA CEO Bjorn Rebney said the door is open for Askren to sign with another organization.
"I don't think we're going to make an offer [to Askren] at this point," Rebney said. "So I don't see any reason to make anybody sit out. If Ben's going to go to the UFC, we should speed up that process so he can go fight. I'd love to see Ben versus [Georges St-Pierre]."
Following a nasty legal battle over former champion Eddie Alvarez, who has finally agreed to terms with Bellator MMA, this statement from Rebney is a relief.
With his Bellator MMA contract expired, Askren may be back in a cage fairly soon without any problems arising from his former promotion's matching period. There are other options, but the UFC is obviously the most attractive suitor for MMA free agents, and the premier organization seems to be interested in his services.
Clearly, nothing has been made official, but all signs seem to be pointing to Askren fighting inside the Octagon relatively quickly.
Whom should the former Bellator MMA welterweight champion fight in his potential UFC debut?
Well, with an undefeated record in 12 career bouts and strong name recognition for a UFC newcomer, Askren has a chance to compete with 170-pound contenders right away.
Matchups with fellow wrestlers would be interesting for the two-time NCAA champion, but the likes of Josh Koscheck and Jake Ellenberger are coming off losses. Askren, having never been beaten, should meet an opponent coming off a win who could push him toward title contention quickly.
That's where the winner of a UFC Fight Night 29 bout between Demian Maia and Jake Shields comes in. If Maia picks up his fourth straight win since moving to the 170-pound division, he'd be an ideal opponent for Askren.
Askren has been criticized for being conservative on the ground in the past. If he is able to take Maia down, he would have a tough time stalling against the world-class Brazilian jiu-jitsu practitioner.
With Maia and Shields not stepping into the Octagon until October, this scenario would give Askren some time to iron out contract negotiations with UFC brass before jumping into training camp for what would likely be an early 2014 debut.
Sean Smith is a B/R MMA Featured Columnist. Follow him on Twitter @SeanSmithMMA.