Santino DeFranco editorial: Is Ben Askren a pawn?
This Underground Blog Guest Editorial was written by TUF, K-1, IFL, and Bodog veteran Santino DeFranco. Santino is also a trainer of note, having worked with Seth Baczynski, Efrain Escudero, Yaotzin Meza, Danny Martinez, and Victor Mez, among many others. He is currently enrolled in the MFA Creative Writing program at Northern Arizona University, and recently finished a novel that is in the final stages of editing.
He asks, is Ben Askren a sacrificial pawn in Dana and Bjorn’s game of chess?
Over the last week or so we’ve heard Dana say that he’s “very interested in Ben Askren,” Bjorn Rebney say he “wasn’t interested in Askren,” and Askren himself publicly state that he wants to fight in the UFC.
I’m not so sure all three parties are one hundred percent honest in their statements though. I think Askren is being honest about his desires, as I think he may be under the (false) impression he is more of a blue chip commodity than he may actually be. But we’ll get to his statements after we talk about the real issue here: Bjorn and Dana’s true intentions, and distaste for one another.
Are Dana and Bjorn’s respective statements true, or are they business tricks to try to drive Askren’s price down or leave the other with the hot potato when the buzzer goes off? Well, I wouldn’t be writing this if I thought former - and Askren might just want to tone down what he says in the media until he is contractually released from Bellator.
Why the sudden change from Dana regarding Askren? I know he has done this before with fighters not in his organization - he talks about how horrible fighter X is, then as soon as the fighter is a free agent swoops in and signs Mr. X, telling the world how amazing he has been all along. Dana’s bashing of any and all that is not the UFC is certainly nothing new, but this time it might just be a little different. Askren isn’t exactly the most exciting fighter, or any type of ratings god, or the most interesting personality. He is, however, Bellator’s most dominant champion that is coming to the end of his contract. By Dana publicly stating he’s interested in Askren (he usually doesn’t announce fighter negotiations until they are finalized) that could, theoretically, drive up Bellator’s initial offer to keep their current champ on the roster. Or, if Bellator chooses not to offer a contract, that could keep the bidding war to a minimum and Dana could pick up Askren much cheaper, and painlessly, as opposed to what we saw in the Eddie Alvarez negotiations debacle.
As for Bjorn’s statements, it is pretty much the reciprocal. By Bjorn stating he doesn’t want Askren that, again theoretically, would mean the UFC may come in with a lower offer to Askren. If the offer is low enough, Bellator may decide to jump on the matching clause and take Askren back as their champion. If the UFC really does want Askren badly enough and offers him a lucrative contract, Bjorn probably won't match it, and it gets Askren off of Bellator’s hands and makes room for a more exciting champion - maybe the winner of the Fight Master reality show and the next tournament winner? Either way, Bjorn is hoping to get a win out of going public with his statement as opposed to handling the contract behind closed doors.
That brings us to Ben Askren, who may suffer the most from both presidents publicly talking about him. It may not have been a wise decision for Askren to go public about wanting to go to the UFC before he actually had the contract signed. If Bellator does decide to let him go and honestly doesn’t want him and Dana, in turn, offers him a low contract - maybe much lower than what he was hoping for or will accept - Askren might not have any other choice but to take the lowball offer. If he had kept his mouth closed for a bit longer, he might very well have been in a decent position to negotiate a much higher pay rate. But as of now, it seems that Askren may be the pawn both chess masters are hoping to give up in order to win the game.
Regardless of the outcome, whether the UFC or Bellator signs the upcoming free agent, Askren, it’s just hard to believe that these talks are not some sort of façade that Dana and Bjorn are putting in front of the world to gain a strong position with one another.