The discouraging nosedive that is Ben Askren’s free agency may have reached terminal velocity this week, with rumors that the former Bellator champ will ditch our whole continent to sign with OneFC.
OneFC? I mean, now he’s just messing with us.
At least one better option was emphatically crossed off the list over the weekend, when Dana White emerged from a meeting with Askren only to reiterate that the UFC had declined to tender him an offer, at least for now.
“The meeting went well,” White told MMA Junkie.com’s John Morgan prior to the TUF 18 finale. “He's a nice kid, I've got nothing against him ... (but) we won't be signing him at this time.
“I think it's crazy that he's ranked in the top 10—he hasn't fought anybody,” White continued. “He has no challenges (in Bellator). The best thing that could happen to that kid is leaving Bellator. Now he's got the opportunity to go to World Series of Fighting and show what he's got."
White and the UFC have offered several rationales for their anti-Askren stance since the fighter extricated himself from Bellator last month, but the above statements were notable for a couple of different reasons.
First, because White calling him “a nice kid” was maybe the most complimentary thing he’s ever said about Askren. Many of their previous interactions haven’t been so cordial.
Second, because the UFC’s continued assertion that Askren still needs to prove himself Octagon-worthy is just plain hard to figure.
Here are the facts as we know them about Askren: He’s a former Olympian, an undefeated professional fighter at 12-0 and the former welterweight champion of America’s second largest MMA promotion.
Surely there are fighters on the organization’s current roster that are less worthy and less accomplished than Askren. If company brass thinks he’s unproven, imagine what they must whisper about UFC welterweights like Neil Magny (8-4) or Amir Sadollah (6-4) when nobody’s listening.
If White himself doesn’t believe that Askren is top-10 material, that’s fine, but the very point of the UFC has always been to let fighters prove their own worth. For some reason, this particular guy is being denied that opportunity, and it’s tough to determine why.
If the UFC’s not impressed with his nine straight wins in Bellator, would a few more in WSOF really make Askren a whole new man?
No, the thing keeping him out of the Octagon can’t be his credentials, that just doesn’t compute. Nor really does the notion the UFC would bar him from its ranks simply because it doesn't appreciate his wrestle-first, wrestle-often style. As far as we know, it's never flatly refused to sign someone based purely on their approach, and it doesn't make sense that the company would start now.
More likely the two sides couldn’t come together on the financials, or the UFC would rather have Askren make a pit-stop elsewhere in the hopes that the smell of Bellator will wear off him in the process.
If that's the plan, though, Askren doesn't appear to be buying into it. Perhaps we can take recent rumblings of a move to OneFC as a sign of what he thinks about White’s suggestion that he go "show what he's got" in WSOF.
Or perhaps not. Perhaps he legitimately feels he'll get the best deal and the best competition if he relocates to Singapore.
The point is, we might never find out what Askren's "got" if he doesn't wind up in the UFC, and longtime MMA fans should find that unsettling.
The Octagon has long been a place where the best compete against the best, regardless of fighting style or previous professional baggage. The fact Askren can’t find a home there strikes as significant a blow to that reputation as I can remember.
Here’s hoping it’s only temporary.