As best he can, Ben Askren is trying to get over it.
“It” doesn’t need much of an introduction these days. It’s already been dragged up and down and all around, and both sides have fired off some choice words.
But for the uninitiated, Askren left Bellator MMA as a free agent, vacating his welterweight title. Most thought he was a slam dunk to sign with the UFC. But after a meeting, that didn’t happen. Instead, the 2008 Olympian and four-time NCAA All-American wrestler signed a two-year, six-fight deal with ONE FC.
“I’ve moved on,” Askren (12-0) told MMAjunkie Radio. “I’ve accepted what’s happened, and I’m looking forward to what’s going to happen in the future. … I’m not a begging person; that’s fine. I understand you don’t want me, and I’ll go on my way and help another organization succeed.”
Through 13 total events, the Asia-based ONE FC has brought in some solid names over its 28-month existence and built a few new stars in Asia, as well. But Askren will arguably be its biggest standout yet when he first steps in for the promotion.
In fact, in ONE FC’s 13 total cards, it has put on just 16 welterweight fights. So Askren is realistic about what he’ll be doing for the promotion. Signing with the UFC would’ve had him fighting the world’s best 170 pounders. That won’t be the case in ONE FC.
“Obviously there’s not a lot of highly ranked people over at ONE FC, so I would say every fight I have, that’s really all you can do is win the fights that are put in front of you,” Askren said. “Obviously I wasn’t given an opportunity to face the best guys in the world because of politics and no fault of my own.”
So Askren’s new goal in MMA will be to help his new home become bigger and better.
“I’d really like to help ONE FC expand their global brand,” he said. “I know a lot of people in the organization, and I think they’re awesome. I think they have a great thing going and are going to do a lot of good things in the future. So getting to help them grow, it’s going to help me. So those would be my two goals in MMA.”
ONE FC doesn’t yet have a welterweight champion. A bout between Adam Kayoom and Nobutatsu Suzuki planned for November’s “ONE FC: Warrior Spirit” show fell through when Kayoom was injured. Then his replacement, Vitor Pinto, wasn’t medically cleared for the title fight.
Askren believes he might go right into a championship fight, though nothing has been booked just yet for his debut with the promotion.
“Hopefully I get a title shot fairly soon – obviously I think I deserve it,” he said. “In my first or second fight, I would hope I’d be fighting for (the title).”
Askren made not know who that will be against, but he’s not planning it being against Phil Baroni, one of a handful of American veterans who have fought under the ONE FC banner. He’s 1-2 for the promotion, and lost to Suzuki in May.
Baroni has called Askren out, saying he’ll gladly welcome him to ONE FC. But that’s a fight Askren is far from keen on. Baroni, a UFC, PRIDE and Strikeforce veteran, has lost four of his past five and seven of his past nine.
“He’s lost his last two fights. He hasn’t won in a while,” Askren said. “He’s just not very good in general. He hasn’t been good for a long time, and he’s really desperate to get a fight. He’s trying to pick one with me. Maybe if he wins a couple, then he can challenge me for the belt I’m going have shortly, then we could go.”
So Askren waits to hear his first assignment. And in the meantime, he won’t be far from bumping into the UFC brass. Next week in Georgia, he plans to be in the corner of Roufusport teammate Dustin Ortiz at UFC Fight Night 35, and the following week in Chicago, he’ll be cornering teammates Sergio Pettis and Pascal Krauss at UFC on FOX 10.
And after his two-year deal with ONE FC is up, he’s not ruling anything out. Despite the tension between him and the UFC, he’d be open to talking again down the road.
“We’d have to see. It would be an interesting scenario,” he said. “We’ll just see what happens as the future plays out.”
For more on ONE FC’s upcoming schedule, stay tuned to the MMA Rumors section of the site.
MMAjunkie Radio broadcasts Monday-Friday at noon ET (9 a.m. PT) live from Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino’s Race & Sports Book. The show is hosted by “Gorgeous” George Garcia, MMAjunkie lead staff reporter John Morgan and producer Brian “Goze” Garcia. For more information or to download past episodes, go to www.mmajunkie.com/radio.
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