For many hardcore fans, Ben Askren’s impending deal with the UFC came with a question: Why now?
With the ink on his contract still not dry as of Saturday night, Askren (18-0 MMA, 0-0 UFC) didn’t have a good answer. The way he remembers things, he was retired and minding his own business. Suddenly, a contract with the world’s biggest MMA promotion was pending.
It wasn’t the first time an offer had been on the table. Five years ago, he flew to Las Vegas to meet with the promotion, expecting to sign a contract. Somewhere during the commute, it was rescinded.
This time, it stuck.
“I’ve got my suspicions why they didn’t want me, but I don’t know the real answer,” Askren told reporters backstage at UFC 230, where he served as a guest fighter for the promotion for the first time.
What a pretty remarkable turnaround for a longtime antagonist of UFC President Dana White.
“I’m a marketable fighter, who I think I can speak pretty well,” Askren said. “I think my English is fairly good, who’s 12-0, who’s an Olympian, who’s an NCAA champion – that seems like a no-brainer, slam dunk. But for some reason, they passed.”
Back then, Askren was none too happy with the decision – specifically, White, whom he called a “bald-headed fat man” – and vented to the public. More shots were traded over the years, and it seemed like Askren would forever remain on the outside.
Standing in front of reporters, Askren seemed right at home, even though he was still blocked by White on Twitter.
“I think what happened now was their hand was forced,” Askren said.
According to the former Bellator and ONE Championship titleholder, he’d finally gotten to the point where he couldn’t be denied as a talent and a star. He’d reached critical mass with the fans and the influencers of the sport. Social media and UFC commentator Joe Rogan gave him the platform, and fans got a better look at the personality behind the funky hair.
Somehow, Askren even managed to do all this while retired.
“When people very high up with a lot of push and a lot of followers are saying things that aren’t true about me, you can get a certain version of me,” Askren said. “When you get me talking for two hours, you realize this is a normal, likeable, hard-working guy. There’s really not much to dislike about this guy. And that’s what people saw. People saw that side of me, and then there was this push.”
Askren also has a very rare commodity in the world of modern MMA – an undefeated record. The UFC remains needy of bonafide draws outside its orbit who can rightfully claim they’ve dominated the competition.
“I’m 18-0,” Askren said. “That’s a weird ending to the story, since I haven’t fought anyone above me. People want the story to end. They don’t want to read halfway through the book and then the rest of the book gets burned. They want to know what else happens.
“So those two things together compounded to make this happen. It was the people.”
Or one person, if you listen to White.
According to him, it was his idea to end the cold war and receive Askren in a “trade” for former UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson.
“You find guys that people believe are great, or they believe are great,” White said. “It’s very hard to be undefeated in this sport – I don’t care who you are, or who you’ve fought. I love bringing people in to find out if they really are. In my opinion, it was a great deal for me.”
Then there’s Johnson’s manager, Malki Kawa, who said the whole idea was hatched by Johnson. Kawa said last week that White “hated” the idea of a trade. But his persistence – and the promotion’s flexibility – made the deal happen.
Whoever ultimately takes credit, White and Askren can agree it’s a new day. They’re in the fight business, at least until his contract expires or is terminated. White has already started the process of mending fences, unblocking his new signee on Twitter – and forgetting everything that’s been said over the years.
“This guy thinks I hate him,” White said at the post-event presser for UFC 230. “If I hated you. … Why would I do (this deal)? I’m the one that did this deal. I’m the one that came up with this deal. This was my idea. Why would I do this if I hated you so bad and didn’t want you to be here?”
Some people could conclude that watching Askren emasculated might be White’s ultimate goal, or at least a side benefit in the long run. But for now, they have a shared task – finding fighters to test that record.
First up is Robbie Lawler at UFC 233 in January. Askren said he wants to fight the whole division, which he believes will be tough since, as he believes, not a lot of guys want to fight him.
“The last thing someone who walks around like a tough guy and fights in a cage for a living wants to do is be completely emasculated,” Askren said. “And that’s what I do to you. I hold you down for as long as I want, I punch you as many times as I want, and there’s not an f-ing thing you can do about it. And that is so completely emasculating. That steals your manhood. That’s a feeling that none of those guys ever want to feel in their life.”
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Source: USA Today – MMA Junkie
Read the full article here: Ben Askren credits 'the people' for UFC opportunity; Dana White says 'trade' idea was his