Huge news coming out as Bellator president Bjorn Rebney just announced on Twitter that he will allow long-time welterweight champion Ben Askren to walk away from the promotion.
I've made the decision to release Ben Askren. After speaking with Ben, it was clear it was a good time for both parties to move on.— Bjorn Rebney (@BjornRebney) November 14, 2013
We've relinquished any right to match and Ben can sign with whoever he chooses to sign with. I wish Ben the best wherever he goes.— Bjorn Rebney (@BjornRebney) November 14, 2013
Askren's contract with the promotion expired following his bout with Andrey Koreshkov at Bellator 97. However, Bellator has garnered a relatively bad reputation regarding its position when it comes to fighters leaving the promotion, courtesy of its handling of former lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez.
Alvarez and Bellator entered into a lengthy, heated legal battle earlier this year after Alvarez attempted to leave the promotion to join the UFC. In the end, Viacom held all the cards and put Alvarez into a position where he either had to simply not fight for a year and forego income during that span, or buckle to their demands. He returned to the cage two weeks ago, defeating Michael Chandler in a rematch for the Bellator lightweight belt.
While Bellator held Alvarez's earning potential hostage, as was detailed following Bellator 106, Askren has simply gone back to wrestling to put food on the table. He headlined the first pay-per-view event of Agon WC's (a professional Olympic-style wrestling organization), and has been close with the promotion since. It is also important to keep in mind that Rebney has been consistently somewhat dismissive when it comes to Askren's actual skills, calling him "ridiculously one-dimensional" on numerous occasions.
For Askren, this opens the door for a much-hyped move to the UFC. Askren almost certainly won't get the immediate title shot that both he and Rebney have called for, but he likely is only a fight or two away.
For Bellator, this ends the Askren era, but they already have a successor lined up. Season 8 tournament winner Douglas Lima will likely face off with the winner of Season 9, who will be determined at Bellator 109 in a matchup between Olympic judoka Rick Hawn and Strikeforce veteran Ron Keslar.
Ben Askren has made his intentions clear!
I am now free to go to the @UFC and beat whoever I want.— Ben Askren (@Benaskren) November 14, 2013