Bellator grants Ben Askren unconditional release, UFC not interested

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Ben Askren @Benaskren
“I am now free to go to the @UFC and beat whoever I want.”

Bellator welterweight champion Ben Askren has a perfect record, and no job – today he was unconditionally released from his contract, and appears to be removed from the promotion’s website.

“I’ve said it many times, Ben’s a completely one-dimensional fighter who is utterly dominant in that dimension,” said Bellator founder & CEO Bjorn Rebney. “I had a number of discussions with Ben and it became clear it was time for both parties to move in different directions. 

“We’ve relinquished any right to match here and Ben can sign with whoever he chooses to sign with. Ben’s been at Bellator since the start of his career, I respect him and what he’s accomplished and wish him the best wherever he goes.”

When Askren’s current contract with Bellator expired this summer, Rebney declined to make the champion an offer. Bellator retains the right to match any contract, and so released him, waiting for a UFC offer, with the option to match it.

“I don’t think we’re going to make an offer at this point,” said Rebney at the time. “So I don’t see any reason to make anybody sit out. If Ben’s going to go to the UFC, we should speed up that process so he can go fight. I’d love to see Ben versus GSP.”

“If the UFC does make an offer, we’ll take a look at it and move on from there. We haven’t been proactive yet. I have nothing but good things to say about Ben as a fighter, but we’re all very aware of how he fights and what he does… It’s not for everyone.”

Rebney frankly described Bellator’s welterweights as being short on wrestling, and long on striking, and attributed that to the Olympian’s dominating success.

“Until the wrestling game evolves they’re going to have big problems with a guy like Ben Askren,” said Rebney. “He does what he does, takes them out of their environment, and that makes for incredibly lopsided fights.”

Askren said at the time that he thought Bellator’s offer might be a ploy.

“Let’s face it, they’ve got these guys they’re trying to bring up, trying to make into stars,” said Askren. “And then I outstrike them 248-3 and make them look like they’re a child. It’s pretty tough to make them a star after that.”

“Honestly, I think it could be a ploy on their part to get the UFC to make a lower offer, so when they go to match it’s not as hard.”

“I don’t know that there are any challenges left in Bellator, so yeah, I think the only challenges for me are in the UFC.”

Some members of the hardcore fanbase thought from the outset that UFC president Dana White might not make Askren an offer at all, noting White and Askren bickered bitterly on Twitter last year.

“When ambien can’t sleep it takes Ben Askren,” tweeted White. “The most boring fighter in MMA history. I would rather watch flys f—.”

However, White has long demonstrated that he can work with a fighter, even if they don’t get along on social networks, or anywhere. Tito Ortiz and White were so ill suited that White once referenced the need for marriage counseling, and agreed to fight Ortiz in the boxing ring. Tito was eventually put into the UFC Hall of Fame (and declined the boxing match).

At the time, White expressed interest.

“We’ll talk to Ben,” said White. “Yeah, we’ll talk to him.”

Then, no talk.

Early last month, UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis, a RoufuSport teammate of Askren’s, said the welterweight may retire.

“One guy who is on the main stage, ready, is Ben Askren,” said Pettis. “He’s stuck between Bellator and the UFC, thinking about retiring. He’s one of the best guys I’ve ever trained with…I don’t want to see him get lost between organizations.”

Askren took to Twitter and said he didn’t want to retire, he did want to fight UFC welterweight champon George St-Pierre.

“Not retiring yet, still 1 person I want to beat up. @GeorgesStPierre @ufc @danawhite,” tweeted Askren. “I will lay on GSP for as long as I damn well please.”

Then Rebney said he would grant Askren unconditional release, provided the UFC granted him a title shot vs. the winner of George St-Pierre vs. Johny Hendricks.

White was not impressed.

“They’re playing f—ing games,” White told “I don’t care what they’re doing. It doesn’t matter to me.”

“I don’t give a s— what they’re doing. They don’t matter and I don’t care.”

“When you’re willing to let your f—ing champion go, it’s weird.”

White was asked about signing Askren at the UFN 32 post-fight media scrum, and did not seem eager to acquire the Olympian.

“Was I signing him?” asked White. “No, I don’t think so. Not me.”

However, now Askren has been granted unconditional release, is an unrestricted free agent.

Ben Askren’s problem is not that he is one dimensional. By all accounts he has an excellent striking and submission game. His problem is that the top contenders in Bellator at welterweight are one dimensional, without the wrestling to keep it standing long enough to throw a jab. While Askren’s style vs. one-dimensional dangerous strikers is not fan friendly, against the wrestlers in the UFC he would have to employ as well his reportedly solid striking game, thus making his style more fan friendly.

However, at the UFC 167 media event today, White said he will not be signing Askren.

“No interest,” said White definitively, as transcribed by MMAFighting. “As far as the kid, as far as the level he’s on? He barely beat Jay Hieron, you know? He’s got some work to do, he can fight in another organization and work his way up and go from there.”

White also expressed unbridled disdain for Bellator.

“He’s their champion and they don’t want him. What does that tell you?” asked White. “They don’t even care… The fact that they would just give away a guy who was undefeated, it just shows what kind of people you are.”

White additonally expressed empathy for fighters under contract to Bellator, referring to the league as “that s—hole.”