Bjorn Rebney Promises to Let Ben Askren Leave with Guaranteed UFC Title Shot

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Bjorn Rebney Promises to Let Ben Askren Leave with Guaranteed UFC Title Shot
Photo courtesy Sports Illustrated

Watching Ben Askren fight has never been the most entertaining thing in the world.

This is not an insult; I've long stated that I enjoy watching his special brand of wrestling-based dominance. Saying that he is unexciting isn't the same thing as saying that he is bad at what he does, because he is quite good. 

But Askren's current employment dance with the UFC and Bellator? That's been very entertaining to watch. And things just took a much more interesting turn.

Here's Askren, courtesy of Josh Gross and ESPN:

"He just called me and said straight up, 'I think you're the best welterweight in the world,'" Askren told ESPN.com on Tuesday. "I thought, OK, where's he going with this?"

Rebney wondered aloud: "How about I let you go free if you fight GSP?"

According to Askren, Bellator CEO Rebney said that as long as the UFC guarantees him a title fight in Askren's first UFC fight, he will waive Bellator's matching rights and allow his welterweight champion to head to the world's biggest fighting promotion.

Now, we have reason not to take Rebney at his word when it comes to things of this nature. After all, he promised for months that if Eddie Alvarez wanted to go to the UFC, he'd allow him to go. Look where all of that got Alvarez: on the receiving end of a prolonged lawsuit and then back in Bellator, if only temporarily. 

But let's imagine that Rebney is telling the truth, and that he'll allow Askren to go to the UFC if he's given an immediate title shot. 

Would the UFC grant Askren that honor? It is unlikely.

Dana White has never been the biggest Askren fan. He once tweeted, "When Ambien wants to sleep, it takes Ben Askren." But White's tune changed when Askren became a free agent in July, although the UFC president noted that Askren would find the road much tougher in the UFC than in Bellator.

White also told MMAJunkie.com he doesn't believe Rebney's claims of letting Askren leave:

We'll see what happens with Ben. First they say they're going to let him go. They're not going to let him go. They'll probably end up suing him too and make him sit out and lose a bunch of money and f--- him in a deal. Bad guys. They're bad guys.

Why would Rebney allow his welterweight champion to leave? Here's what he told ESPN:

If you want to say the best fighters in the world fight in your organization and one becomes available and you have the unfettered right to talk to him, pick up the phone and call him. And if you claim our matching rights are so prohibitive -- the exact same matching rights that you have in your agreement -- then give him a title fight out of the box, which is not unreasonable given that he's ranked in the top six in the world, and I'll just walk away from our matching rights. So I'm making it as simple as I can possibly make it for them to live up to what they claim. Go for it. Or don't go for and I'll re-sign him. And if you want to fight the best you can come here to Bellator, train your wrestling like a wild dog, and try to beat Ben Askren.

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There's another wrinkle in the story: Even if the UFC offers Askren a title shot in his first fight and Rebney keeps his promise to permit his champ to leave, what's to stop the UFC from pulling the title shot after he signs?

As we've seen so many times, title shots are not guaranteed in the UFC even when they are earned. Askren, despite his undefeated record, has not earned a shot at Georges St-Pierre.

Things would become more interesting if Askren were to face St-Pierre. Askren is not a complete mixed martial artist by any stretch of the imagination, but his wrestling is devastating. St-Pierre has used his wrestling to great effect as champion, but Askren has better wrestling.

Does the Bellator champ have the skills to put St-Pierre on his back for five rounds and keep him there? He does. Whether he can actually do it in the Octagon is a different story, of course.

Bellator's matching rights to Askren last through July 31, 2014. At that point, he will become a true free agent and be able to sign with any promotion he chooses. He told ESPN.com that he hasn't given much thought to the idea of sitting out an entire year but would "leave that one open because I'm not sure."

Needless to say, the Askren saga is just beginning, and it's safe to say that many fans will find the story more captivating than Askren's actual fights.

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