Strong words came out of former Bellator welterweight champion Ben Askren Saturday regarding the recently announced matchup of Bellator middleweight champion Alexander Shlemenko and former UFC light heavyweight champion Tito Ortiz. Amid a discussion regarding the matchmaking decision, Askren said the following:
@FrontRowBrian it's a work!!! Tito has ties To Schlemenko. Taking the L for a good cause.— Ben Askren (@Benaskren) April 12, 2014
For those not in the know, the term "work" means the bout is either manipulated to favor one fighter or the other, or the outcome is outright predetermined. Askren, obviously, is suggesting that Bellator is looking to artificially build Shlemenko's brand by arranging for him to beat Ortiz.
The bout was announced Friday at Bellator 116, hot on the heels of a seemingly random call-out by Shlemenko. It will go down on the upcoming Bellator pay-per-view card, which is slated to go down Saturday, May 17.
While suggesting that Bellator is manipulating the results of bouts is a big claim, its intent with this Shlemenko vs. Ortiz matchup is clear.
Shlemenko is a legitimate rising star, and he is one of the few true top-10 fighters under the Bellator umbrella. Ortiz, meanwhile, is a former A-list star on a sharp decline. Putting the two together on what is likely Bellator's biggest card of 2014 offers Shlemenko the opportunity to raise his star power further against a (seemingly) easy opponent.
It is worth noting that, while Askren was famously released by Bellator last December, he expressed gratitude toward the promotion. "Funky," of course, was expecting the opportunity to head to the UFC and eventually have a long-awaited showdown with UFC legend Georges St-Pierre. That makes it somewhat surprising that he would make such a strong claim regarding his former bosses who he (seemingly) had a fairly cordial divorce from.
We shall see if this was Askren speaking his mind, or if he will continue firing volleys at Bellator in the future.