By Zach Arnold | November 15, 2013
He’s the best free agent welterweight fighter available for any promotion in MMA to sign. In a sport-first climate, Askren wouldn’t be sitting on the sidelines. However, combat sports is and always will be entertainment-first. That’s especially true for Mixed Martial Arts, which is heavily reliant on pro-wrestling fans.
During his run in Bellator, Askren made it clear that he wanted to fight the best in the world and that meant going to the UFC. After he was granted his release from Bellator on Thursday, he reiterated his desire to go to the UFC to beat the best fighters. The problem is that UFC apparently isn’t interested in signing Ben Askren. Dana White seems too busy egging on Rory MacDonald to leave his training partners at Tri-Star in Montreal in order to set up Rory vs. GSP should St. Pierre beat Johny Hendricks on Saturday night in Las Vegas. Rory should ask Rashad Evans how Dana’s gym-busting shenanigans worked out for his career.
If the UFC won’t sign Askren, it means he will have to either go back to Bellator and cut a deal or else sign with UFC stalking horse World Series of Fighting. WSOF is bankrolled by Sig Rogich, top Nevada political fixer who is one of the men responsible for Keith Kizer having his job security at the Nevada State Athletic Commission. Rogich is very close to Marc Ratner & Lorenzo Fertitta. WSOF is UFC’s unofficial bastard child and exists for experimentation in different markets and to sign talent so that they don’t land in Bellator.
The problem for Ben Askren is that he’s all about credibility and relevancy. He didn’t view the competition in Bellator as being on his level. He’ll likely feel the same way about WSOF. Askren is stuck because he doesn’t possess much leverage at the moment with no bidding war on the horizon. Perhaps he (and many other fighters) should read this Cage Potato article about learning lessons from the sport of boxing when it comes to building leverage at the negotiating table.
If he wants to maintain exposure to MMA fans, Bellator remains his best option. If he wants to convince himself that going to UFC stalking horse WSOF means he’s a step closer to getting to the big show, then he’ll take the risk — but it is a mighty risk. He’ll be facing guys like Jon Fitch, Josh Burkman, and Steve Carl. UFC would love to see Askren in WSOF, as it would give them access to file tape to use to promote Askren on television should they decide to bring him in down the road.
All of this is irrelevant if UFC is hoodwinking everyone and is ready to bring Askren in as a surprise. That said, there are plenty of reasons the UFC legitimately isn’t interested in Ben Askren. His fight style is boring for their (shrinking) audience. He’s one of the good guys when it comes to calling out the rampant drug usage in the sport and that is a no-no in the organization that publicly backs anabolic steroid passes for certain fighters. UFC’s track record of bringing in guys from Bellator has been mixed.
So, where does Askren go from here? Bellator’s contracts are onerous but the Viacom-owned league remains his best option to stay relevant and in the public spotlight. If Bellator was gone from the MMA picture, he would have nowhere to go but to WSOF. Interesting to note how WSOF swept right in with a contract offer right after Dana White said they weren’t interested. Let’s see how many people in the press will connect the dots about the UFC/WSOF relationship.
Exit question: Is money really an issue in regards to UFC not wanting to sign Askren? Hard to believe, but this is the same operation that cut bait with Jon Fitch. They look like geniuses now for doing so, but at the time they got creamed for saying Fitch was too expensive. This is an operation that is making $90 million a year from Fox Sports and solid PPV revenue even if the buy rate numbers are in decline.