The mystery is over, and Ben Askren has his new home.
Askren (12-0 MMA, 9-0 BMMA), who was released from his Bellator MMA contract earlier this year – as that promotion’s welterweight champion, has signed with the Asia-based ONE FC. The promotion recently announced Askren’s signing, along with several other new acquisitions.
One of the most talked-about free agents in MMA history, it was widely believed that Askren would sign with the UFC. But UFC President Dana White, after meeting with Askren recently, said he believed the fighter needs some more experience. White said he believed Askren might wind up with World Series of Fighting. But it was ONE FC that won the sweepstakes for the unbeaten fighter’s services.
Askren, a two-time NCAA Division I national champion wrestler, most recently fought in July, when he stopped Andrey Koreshkov with a fourth-round TKO at Bellator 97. Before that, he stopped Karl Amoussou after three rounds. The two stoppages broke a streak of six straight decision wins – decisions that led to plenty of criticism from fans, from White and even in some ways from Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney.
After a relationship with the fighter turned contentious, including a peculiar scenario in which company officials said they would consider waiving their matching rights if he were granted an immediate UFC title shot, Bellator released the fighter.
“I’ve been a staunch supporter of Ben Askren,” Rebney said earlier this fall. “We can all agree: He’s ridiculously one-dimensional. But the issue with that one dimension is that he’s better at it than anyone on the face of the earth. … I don’t know if Ben will be with us. I don’t know if Ben will be with the UFC. But wherever he goes, he will remain dominant and he will remain amazingly effective at the one thing he does better than anybody.”
Rebney later said he’d waive Bellator’s matching rights if the UFC offered Askren an immediate title shot. It did little to sway the UFC, though, to sign the fighter, who is ranked No. 7 in the USA TODAY Sports/MMAjunkie.com MMA welterweight rankings.
“They’re playing f—ing games,” White later told MMAjunkie.com of Bellator’s offer to let Askren sign with the UFC if he were given an instant shot at Georges St-Pierre. “… I don’t give a s–t what they’re doing.”
Askren was a four-time All-American wrestler at Missouri, compiling a record of 153-8 with 91 pins – making him one of the best wrestlers in NCAA Division I history. He wrestled on the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team before moving to MMA.
While with Bellator, Askren set the promotion’s high-water mark with five title fights and four successful title defenses. With the Bellator welterweight title vacant, a new champion will be crowned when Douglas Lima faces the Season 9 tournament winner Rick Hawn in 2014.
Askren’s first ONE FC fight has not yet been announced. The promotion did, however, announce the signings of South Korea’s Dae Hwan Kim (8-0), Australia’s Chris Lokteff (11-1), Strikeforce veteran Harris Sarmiento (36-25) and Bellator vet Aung La Nsang (14-9).
For more on ONE FC’s upcoming schedule, check out the MMA Rumors section of the site.
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