Ben Askren belongs in the UFC. Whether or not you want to see him in the UFC is a matter of opinion, but the fact is that for someone with his resume to be relegated to ONE FC is a bad omen for future MMA fighters.

Askren holds a number of accolades from his days competing on the University of Missouri’s wrestling team, including a handful of All-American awards and a pair of national titles. And although he didn’t enjoy success at the Olympic level, it still says something about the talent of the man to reach those heights. For further validation of his skill in grappling, just take a look at his recent domination of two-time NCAA Division I champion Quentin Wright in a recent wrestling match. Askren not only won the competition by the score of 22-8, but did so while being six years removed from NCAA competition at 197 pounds, and against an opponent who was only months removed from winning the national title at Penn State.

Still, the UFC doesn’t want any “funky” business going on in the Octagon and has decided Askren isn’t worthy of a roster spot. We can discuss what it means for Askren as a fighter day and night, but perhaps the biggest concern is what it means for MMA as a sport overall. It’s certainly nothing positive.

At first glance, the UFC’s refusal to sign Askren reeks of the promotion’s anti-Bellator bias. The UFC and Bellator have been butting heads for the past few years, and the two recently engaged in a lengthy, ugly legal battle over the services of Eddie Alvarez. That wouldn’t be the case with Askren, though, as Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney and company basically let their champion walk out the door with no opposition. Still, the UFC refused to hand out a contract.

There’s also the thought that if Askren were to come into the UFC and win, it would validate Bellator as a legitimate promotion, something the UFC has been eager to avoid. Regardless of what methodology you use to determine why Askren isn’t in the UFC, it’s clear that being labeled as an ex-Bellator fighter isn’t desirable. Whether it’s the fact the UFC has been pushed away from negotiating with Bellator stars thanks to the Alvarez debacle or the fact that the promotion doesn’t want to give Bellator stars a chance to legitimize the UFC’s competition, the UFC has painted Bellator with black ink.

Once seen as a desirable place for young fighters to go and win a quick $100,000 along with a title shot, Bellator is quickly becoming a “no-fly zone” for those hoping to make it to the UFC. Even the UFC is suggesting fighters go to promotions like the World Series of Fighting rather than Bellator, despite Bellator being the clear-cut No. 2 promotion in the world.

In effect, this removes Bellator as a viable option for fighters on the regional circuit, thus reducing the number of options for them to find a promotion. If competing for a length of time with Bellator negates any chances at an UFC contract, what reason is there to compete for the organization? In a market that’s already predominantly ruled by the UFC, it’s another feather in its cap when it comes to contract negotiations. It helps maintain the status that the UFC brand stands above all, and although I can agree that no fighter should ever be above their employer, it does severely reduce the leverage for fighters and their management.

MMA is one of the few major sports where fighters and promotions are not on the same playing field. Promotions can find a number of guys willing to sign on the dotted line for a paycheck if a given fighter wants to play hardball. There are no unions, and agent/management teams are left with little option beyond begging for the chance to have their lesser-known fighters featured by prominent promotions. If the UFC does maintain a “blockade” of Bellator talent, it removes another rival promotion from contention. Yes, we can all agree the UFC is the pinnacle of the sport and, in most cases, the best fighters compete in the Octagon. But we can also agree that it’s not only a benefit to fans—who doesn’t like more fights?—but to fighters as well for there to be viable opportunities to rise up the rankings should the UFC not come calling.

Photo: Ben Askren (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

About The Author

Kyle Symes
Staff Writer

Kyle is a recent graduate of Aurora University, where he obtained a Bachelor's in Communications. Kyle resides in Illinois, just outside of Chicago. He played baseball and football in both high school and college, but is now focusing on an amateur MMA career.

  • Joe__Docker

    I don’t
    agree on this one.

    First of all, no one can deny Askren belongs in the UFC. Of course, we merely have
    to take into account effectiveness, as his 12-0 record suggests. He obviously
    both needs and deserves to test his skills against a higher level of competition.

    The problem here is that Askren’s style, as effective as it may be, is defined
    by the vast majority of MMA fans – myself included – as boring. Deeply boring.

    The UFC appears to have quite an evident policy on this aspect – Fitch, Okami?
    Thanks but no thanks. On the other hand, fighters like Barry, Leben or Wandy –even
    Hall – remain under contract just because of the excitement they bring. Even GSP
    was criticised in the last 5 years, having not finished a fight since 2008 – I
    don’t count the BJ fight. The UFC doesn’t want a guy potentially dominating a
    division for the years to come without getting fans pumped up. That doesn’t
    bring dollars to the company. If they weren’t sure about this, they could
    easily sign him to a one-and-done deal and say “See? This is the best these
    guys can offer. Bellator suck”. Pure Dana. Plus, as you pointed, UFC targeting
    Bellator talent – Lombard, Alvarez, even Makovsky in a way – means giving prestige.

    Bellator didn’t want to use Askren anymore. He wasn’t included in their
    best-we-can-offer PPV-turned-to-Spike card. He was never a main draw. So they
    took the first step and said: “You know what? You deserve going to the UFC”. Bellator
    are the good guys here, it’s big bad Dana not giving Askren the chance. I can
    see Bjorn smiling.

    So if we have a look here, Bellator didn’t want Askren no more in the first
    place. They will surely get better ratings without him. Also the UFC didn’t
    even want to give him a shot. They’re not giving him the chance to ruin/rule their division. The only injured party here is the very own Askren.

    • Ol’ Rooter

      I read your post, and all I see is “just bleed.”

      • Joe__Docker

        Well that wasn’t my intention. All I was saying is that the “just bleed” attittude is what sells the most, and these companies are based upon that money, right?

        Personally, I don’t really enjoy Askren’s style or GSP either. I dig on the other hand Hendricks’ and Maia’s, also loved Randy’s and they’re quite similar to a certain extent.
        But I accept Askern, Fitch and GSP just because of the purity of the sport. My point was that there’s a confrontation here between sport and business and it is precisely the athlete who got caught in the middle.

    • Ryan

      Here are the facts:

      The UFC behind closed doors was going through the contract negotiation to make Ben Askren a part of the UFC. So, logically speaking at this point in time it is safe to say that it is more than possible for a former Bellator fighter to make the transition to the UFC.

      My opinion:

      If the UFC doesn’t like Bellator wouldn’t it be in their best interest to get all of the deserving Bellator fighters in the UFC so Bellator can’t grow as a promotion? This is business if we are in business against each other I would try to get your best people to work for me so you would struggle and go out of business.

  • Peter Banh

    UFC is the biggest MMA company, but it doesn’t guaranteed the biggest paycheck. Bibiano Fernandes is a good example. ONE FC offered Bibiano Fernandes a lot more than UFC did and he signed with ONE FC and he is their current Bantamweight Champion. UFC offered him $15k/$15k for show/win while ONE FC offered him $60k/$60k for show/win. People with the right mind would take the 4 times bigger paycheck. At the end of the day, money is what matter most, not pride or legacy. Fighters need to make the most money they can so they can save up for the future as career of a fighter is short and you need the money to survive. Ben said that he will make nearly $1million from a 6 fights contract. Good for him as it’s more than most UFC fighters make in the octagon. It’s good that ONE FC is on the rise and willing to pay more than the UFC.

  • Chris

    I don’t agree with the author on this topic. Ben Askren was not regulated to go to ONE FC he choose to go there. There is no evidence to show that Ben Asken is not worthy of a roster spot. If the UFC believed Ben askren is not worthy of a roster spot then why did they sit down in person with Zinkin Entertainment (Ben Askren’s Management team) to discuss the real issue which is money.

    The author goes on to speculate that if a MMA fighter fights in Bellator they will not get to go to the UFC. The author has made the issue very black and white by stating this. It is written as if it is impossible to make the transition to the UFC from Bellator. If this was accurate why did the UFC sit down with Ben Askren’s management team to discuss the real issue which is money. And if the UFC is so anti Bellator why would they sit down and negotiate a potential contract with a fighter who is considered boring? It’s because Ben Askren is boring yet he is good enough to be in the UFC if he accepts the offer that is given.

    Dana White has expressed that every promotion in his opinion of course is simply a stepping stone to the UFC. However, the fighter has to be good enough and be willing to accept the offer they are given. Ben Askren wanted more money than he was offered the fact is he hasn’t fought very many good fighters (except Douglas Lima) and the was he is winning looks ridiculous and is boring.

    Bellator is a very new promotion, however, after a Bellator’s fighter contract ends if they are good enough I am sure they will enter negotiation with the UFC. Each fighter will be handled on an individual basis and I am sure some fighters will accept the offer the UFC gives and make the transition. Bellator is a promotion that is four years old and MMA is a small sport the authors sample size for his strong opinions about how the UFC will handle negotiation with Bellator fighters is ridiculous. Also, as the author touched on the UFC tried extremely hard to get a fighter who has been fighting in Bellator into the UFC while he was under contract with Bellator!