It is official—Ben Askren has signed a contract with ONE FC.

After Askren received his 100 percent unconditional release from Bellator (just ask Eddie Alvarez how difficult that is), many speculated that the UFC would be quick to add the reigning welterweight champion.

Hold up, said UFC President Dana White. From the get-go, White stated he had absolutely no interest in signing the undefeated Askren. Then there were rumors that White may give Askren a go on a future season of The Ultimate Fighter, to which Askren gave White a big middle finger.

So now, Askren has moved—or is in the process of moving—to Singapore to square off with the best fighters ONE FC has to offer. But the question still lingers as to whether White was right in letting ONE FC President Victor Cru snatch up the man who many would argue is one of the best welterweights in the world. Let the debate begin between myself and fellow The MMA Corner writers Dale De Souza and Kyle Symes.

Schielke: First off, let me get this out of the way. I am glad Askren found a home outside of Bellator. Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney, with all due respect, has nobody currently on his roster who Askren could not steamroll. Add the fact that Askren is more than likely going to make much more money fighting overseas, and it all adds up to a win for the former Bellator champ.

Askren, in my eyes, would have been the Chael Sonnen at 170 pounds, with the exception that Askren wins fights. He basically started his career in Bellator as a wrestler and has shown that he has significantly improved his overall game, ending his last two fights by TKO, and all while racking up an undefeated 12-0 record. If the UFC—er, I mean MMA—rankings were to be taken seriously, Askren would without a doubt be a top-10 fighter.

In my opinion, White made a horrible decision by not having a contract ready for Askren to sign the moment Askren received his release.

De Souza: I thank you for that fine introduction, my good man, and I echo the positive vibes towards the fact that “Mr. Wrestling” Ben Askren—often called “Funky” because of his unconventional style of wrestling takedowns and grappling—finally found a new promotion in which to showcase his skill set. Someone will figure Askren out down the line, but let’s keep it real: the man that beats Askren didn’t sign with Bellator MMA and likely will not surface under the ONE FC banner either. When it comes down to whether or not White dropped the ball on this one, I would have to say that I, too, questioned if he seriously intended to let someone else pick up Askren.

Still, while I do think some worth exists in having Askren on the UFC roster, I can’t really fault Mr. White for this one, though I certainly would like to contest his thought process in the name of healthy MMA debate.

Askren won’t face many threats under the ONE FC banner, outside of perhaps one or two guys, but with this new beginning comes a chance to finish a few fights, thus turning heads and creating demand as more than just “that wrestler dude who wants to fight Georges St-Pierre.” The way I see it, Askren in ONE FC will prove itself as a good move because, although we won’t get to see him against some exiled former UFC notable like a Rousimar Palhares, we will get the opportunity to watch Askren potentially cement his stature as a world-beater at the expense of the Asian MMA circuit’s premier athletes. In the long run, a successful array of wins under the ONE FC banner will speak louder than any contract negotiations in assessing Askren’s UFC readiness.

As for when Askren gets to that point, that depends on Askren himself, because whether or not he actually wants to finish his challengers, it seems he must do so before he can go on to fry some much bigger fish in more shark-infested waters, if you catch my drift.

Symes: I’m still in shock that Askren doesn’t have an UFC contract. I mean, just check out the guy’s resume: 12-0 in MMA, a title in the sport’s second-best promotion, multiple All-American honors and national titles for wrestling, and a stint (albeit brief) in the Olympics. How in the world can you say someone with those credentials doesn’t belong in the UFC?

I think we can all agree that Askren isn’t taking a step forward with his MMA career by heading to ONE FC, but I have to agree with his method of thinking for signing with them. If the UFC isn’t an option, he might as well get the most money. Askren is likely to go undefeated while overseas, and he’ll probably look even more impressive given that the level of competition is drastically different. That will help his negotiations with the UFC in the future.

We’re all searching for reasons why he’s not with the UFC, and although Askren believes it’s because White is attempting to “blacklist” Bellator and despises Rebney, I believe the biggest reason is actually the timing of it all.

Jake Shields is a guy who I see in a similar situation as Askren. They both have fighting styles that have been known to cure insomnia, and neither man has always had the strongest fan support. When Shields was brought over, St-Pierre was perhaps at the height of his “superman” status as an unbeatable champ. St-Pierre had just come off a dismantling of Josh Koscheck (and Koscheck’s orbital bone) and hadn’t even experienced the slightest bit of trouble since his loss to Matt Serra. St-Pierre had seemingly cleared out an entire division and was without a challenger. To make matters worse, the UFC was looking to break into the Canadian market using GSP as its poster boy.

Enter Shields. The UFC had him square off with Martin Kampmann initially, but quickly put him up against GSP just in time for UFC 129. If you don’t remember, UFC 129 was supposed to be an event of epic proportions, something not seen at the time since UFC 100. Shields was seen as the only viable contender left for St-Pierre and thus became a “must-have” for the UFC.

Now, let’s return to the present day. Askren has the credentials, but the timing couldn’t be worse for the former Bellator champ. Johny Hendricks should be the UFC welterweight champion according to many, and the welterweight division is currently full of marketable contenders. The division is wide open as well with GSP on, at the very least, a leave of absence.

Schielke: While my colleagues make some very good points, as Jules from Pulp Fiction so famously said, “Please, allow me to retort.”

For one, let’s look at the idea of finishing fights before getting into the big show. When the UFC signed Hector Lombard, the dude was on a tear. The problem is he was on a tear against a whole bunch of nobodies. Going undefeated in 27 fights is an impressive feat, but it’s not very impressive once you look at who he beat. Add in the fact that he lost in his two most high-profile fights under the Pride FC banner, and I believe that Lombard was a bigger risk than signing “Funky” would ever be. Also, the amount of money thrown Lombard’s way for doing his best 1980s squash wrestling match impressions was just plain dumb. He has earned $75,000 a fight, and the dude is 2-2 thus far in the UFC.

If it is all about finishing fights, couldn’t White have signed Askren to a performance-based contract? X dollars to fight, X dollars to win, and X dollars for finishing. If Askren ever needed motivation to become a finisher, something like that would make him go balls to the wall.

As far as Shields goes, he may have been the only viable opponent for GSP at that moment, but look how that ended up. Shields looked like a steaming pile of crap in his debut against Kampmann and was basically gifted a decision that many don’t believe he deserved just so the already-hyped fight between Shields and GSP could take place.

Where is Shields now? Oh yeah, he’s fighting Lombard. Yup, he was a great pick-up.

Also, I don’t believe fighting in Asia will be a good fit for Askren. Look at the past fighters who became superstars in Asian MMA: Mark Kerr, Mark Coleman, Bob Sapp, Ikuhisa Minowa, Kazushi Sakuraba, Fedor Emelianenko, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic and Wanderlei Silva. They all became uber-popular because they were beasts inside the ring. While I have no doubts that Askren will have much success in ONE FC, I doubt he will become a “superstar” given his fighting style.

And, to make one more point, look at how long the UFC hung on to Jon Fitch. Although he is a great fighter, his past UFC fights are also a great cure for insomnia. If you remember, he was famously “Fitched” at UFC 100, and probably for good reason. His fights were boring and he doesn’t have a flashy personality. I believe Askren is, without a shadow of doubt, more exciting than Fitch and has a swagger that can attract fans and put butts in seats.

De Souza: Will Askren become a star in Asia? It seems too early to say, given that he only provides that “former Bellator welterweight champion” tag attached to his name. Then again, considering that ONE FC still carries Eduard Folayang, Eddie Ng, Koji Oishi and unbeaten Lowen Tynanes as part of its roster, Askren would experience some difficulty capturing the attention of fans of the circuit.

Hopefully, though, nobody mistook my initial point as a suggestion that Askren would reach superstardom in Asia, and if they did, I apologize. I’ll second the call for performance-based contracts, but I still feel that even if Askren does not become a superstar, he will still find success in the cage, and for my liking, everything boils down to that bottom line of “success in the cage.” Askren does not need to worry about rivaling Shinya Aoki or anyone else in terms of popularity. If the man wants in the UFC that badly, the dude just needs to put away impressive people. Besides, with him being open about his willingness to lay-and-pray for wins, a quality that has ironically shown itself prior to both of his most recent finishes, the fact that he’ll portray a natural, consummate heel prior to his bouts should do well enough to where fans will watch him anyway, regardless of whether they want to see the streak continue or see it snap.

But surely we all know that Askren’s streak will one day snap, even if not in ONE FC, yes? After all, Shields ran a hot streak prior to the UFC, and it got snapped. Frankly, though, I believe the Askren case does differ from Shields’ case in one glaring way. Askren’s resume features names that may seem unfamiliar to non-hardcore fans of the sport, but the same people who criticize his style also agree that aside from the split decision win over Jay Hieron and Askren’s first win over Ryan Roberts, the brunt of his wins came with little to no controversy. He can hold that over Shields, whose recent wins over Tyron Woodley and Demian Maia faced similar degrees of heated debate to his UFC debut win over Kampmann. At least if Askren were to defeat someone like Adam Kayoom or Phil Baroni, the latter of whom recently engaged with Askren in a bit of a Twitter beef, few could really debate whether Askren won the fight, even if Askren simply got a dull unanimous decision win out of it.

Symes: Both of my colleagues make excellent points, and I believe we (along with much of the MMA world) could argue back and forth continuously on the subject of Askren not getting into the UFC. At the end of the day, isn’t that what is most important? The departure of St-Pierre opened a lot of people’s eyes to the fact that the UFC is struggling to keep big pay-per-view draws. The promotion has a handful of guys coming up now that certainly have the skills inside the cage, but who must develop the skills outside of it as well in order to become superstars.

As our discussion has proved, Askren has that ability right now. He makes fans talk about him no matter if it’s positive or negative. Fans tune in to watch his amazing wrestling ability or hoping his opponent lands a vicious knockout blow. I love Jason’s concept of an incentive-based contract, although that’s an entirely different discussion for another day, but at the truth is that we don’t know the financial terms of Askren’s ONE FC deal or how much he attempted to get from the UFC.

What we do know is that Askren was one of the most highly ranked free agents in recent MMA history and the UFC decided to take a pass. We also know Askren’s style isn’t exactly what the UFC is looking for these days in order to appeal to a mainstream audience. The UFC is (and likely always will be) in a position to say “no thanks” to virtually anyone, and Askren has been pretty straightforward in admitting that he’s not going to change. For better or worse, Askren is going to be who he is, both in and out of the cage, for the rest of his career. Whether that’s in ONE FC, the World Series of Fighting or the UFC remains to be seen.

Photo: Ben Askren (Will Fox/Sherdog)

About The Author

Jason Lundgren

I have been an MMA reporter/opinion writer for over 10 years. I play WAY too many video games. I'm not on Twitter much, but follow me @JLundgrenSports