Ben Askren may feel like the kid that is always picked last for kick ball back in elementary school. The undefeated, two-time collegiate national champion has the resume that should be more than enough to have landed him a contract with the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Instead, the Wisconsin native is still competing outside of the Octagon. As he prepares for an opportunity to earn the second welterweight title of his career at ONE FC 19, Askren still stands as one of the most prominent names in the sport to have yet to compete in the Octagon.
Five years into his MMA career, Askren has been able to defeat every opponent that has been placed in his way. Ben is perhaps one of the best pure wrestlers that the sport of MMA has seen and his style does not apologize for such. Unfortunately for Askren, the way he wins bouts has not done him the biggest of favors when it comes to making fans in the sport. Even his former boss, Bjorn Rebney of Bellator, tried to undercut his former champion's skills when it was clear that Askren was not returning to the promotion.
“What I was trying to say about Ben is what I've always said about Ben,” Rebney said to Mark La Monica of Newsday. “He is ridiculously one-dimensional. He just happens to be better at that one dimension than potentially anyone on Earth.”
These comments came after Askren decided not to sign with Bellator and pursue other opportunities that were available in the sport. In an interview with Steph Daniels of Bloody Elbow, Askren mentioned that he had multiple deals in place and after being unable to get a contract complete with the UFC he choose the most lucrative offer that was in front of him (via Bloody Elbow). However, comments from UFC President Dana White gave the impression that the interest in signing Askren may not have been as high as some would have expected coming out of Bellator.
“It doesn't change anything,” White said to Steven Marrocco of MMA Junkie when asked of the UFC's interest in Askren. “(We have) no interest. I'm sure (World Series of Fighting) will pick him up. They [Bellator] don't want him. It's their champion, and they don't want him. What does that say?”
This led to Askren signing with ONE FC where he will face Nobutatsu Suzuki for the promotion's welterweight title. When his deal is up with the organization, there is no telling what is next for the former Mizzou Tiger. However, he has made it clear that he believes that he should be in the UFC, competing with the best that the sport has to offer.
“The fact that I'm not in the UFC is almost ridiculous at this point,” Askren said in the interview with Daniels. “I kind of feel disrespected by it, and I don't know that I'll have a lot of motivation to go back in a couple of years and work for those people.”
It's interesting that the UFC has taken a stance to not show interest in Askren when it has brought over other fighters that have even less experience. Ronda Rousey, Brock Lesnar and newly signed Henry Cejudo were all phenomenal athletes in other sports that the UFC signed to deals when they had less than 10 professional fights. Askren may not have the most exciting style that mainstream MMA fans have come to enjoy, but he poses an interesting matchup to any fighter ranked within the top 10 of the welterweight division. He also has shown a penchant for being able to promote himself beyond his competition in the cage which draws attention in different ways.
For now, Askren will have to focus on winning the One FC championship this weekend. If he is able to hoist another title above his head, this may pique the interest of the UFC once his deal is up. However, the 30-year-old athlete may be past his prime at that point and that will leave fight fans and experts only to wonder what could have been if the Ultimate Fighting Championship would have signed him to a deal earlier in his career.
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