News recently broke that Bellator president Bjorn Rebney would not offer his Welterweight champion Ben “Funky” Askren a new contract, which leaves the door open for him to sign with other promotions. It came as kind of a surprise, but then again, we’ve heard the exact same thing before when Eddie Alvarez’s contract with Bellator ran out last year.
Askren has been rather vocal in the past about his thoughts on fighting current UFC Welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre, and now he may have a free path to do so. Rebney spoke up to ESPN about letting his undefeated champion walk away:
"I don't think we're going to make an offer at this point, 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."
Indeed, Askren has drawn the ire of many a fan due to his wrestling-based style that is largely deemed as very boring, so in that sense, he already has much in common with GSP. Askren was last seen at Bellator 97 dismantling prospect Andrey Koreshkov with a smothering performance to earn the TKO. The former two-time NCAA wrestling champion has yet to taste defeat in an MMA cage, and has three submission victories, three TKOs, and six decisions on his unblemished record.
But that doesn’t appear to matter to Rebney, whose Bellator promotion has gotten a decent amount of publicity in the last year for producing action-packed cards with a ton of knockouts.
Apparently, a fighter like Askren isn’t in their plans for the foreseeable future, but it’s surprising to see Rebney come out and say it (albeit in a mildly roundabout manner). I don’t see a messy contract dispute unfolded here like it did with Alvarez. Askren is free to go and seek out his dream matchup against GSP.
The question is, will the UFC even want him? Is it in their best interest to sign Askren, a fighter who has come to embody many of the things that people loathe about boring MMA fights? True, the argument can be made that if you don’t like how he fights, then learn how to stop it. The same thing has been argued over and over again about St. Pierre for years now, ever since he came back and fought safer following his loss to Matt Serra.
However, GSP has a drawing power that Askren could not even fathom. It’s tough to imagine that the UFC will want to offer Askren a contract so he can work his way up their already stacked Welterweight division with a series of boring decisions, because I don’t really see him finishing off any of the fighters in the Top-10 at 170 lbs. I could be wrong, and he could surprise a lot of people inside the Octagon.
But if Askren puts on the same kind of bouts that he’s become known for, sorry to say it, but no one is going to pay to watch him fight GSP, and certainly not anyone else lower down the rankings.
There’s no doubt Askren is a highly talented wrestler with a punishing style that is beyond effective for him inside the cage. That just doesn’t translate to fans in today’s MMA because it is not getting him any signature victories. Dana White wants fighters that bring it every time out to the cage, and Askren definitely does, but his (and many others’ wrestling-based strategies) have prompted the outcry for the need to change MMA scoring.
The UFC Welterweight division may have enough talented wrestlers in its ranks as well. Askren may or may not mix things up immediately if he gets signed, but I just don’t see it happening. What are your thoughts? Should the UFC sign the decorated wrestler and risk the chance that he smothers each and every opponent on the way to a bout against GSP?