Earlier this week Bjorn Rebney said he would release WW Champion Ben Askren free and clear if UFC gives him an immediate title shot against Welterweight Champ Georges St. Pierre. While this might sound like a crazy case of "promoter speak", lets see what Bjorn's logic, and game might be here.
It is interesting that this request came out following UFC Fight Night 29 where Demian Maia dropped a close decision to Jake Shields. Maia was in title contention reeling off impressive wins over Dong Hyun Kim, Rick Story, and Jon Fitch since his drop to Welterweight. A headlining win over Shield's would have given Demian a very strong case to fight GSP, but the loss drops him out title contention and leaves many questions in what has traditionally been division that has few problems generating fresh title contenders.
Georges St. Pierre fights Johny Hendricks on November 16th, and while there is a chance that Hendricks lands one of his big left hands, GSP is a solid favorite to win the fight. While his manager hints at retirement for GSP with a win, there seriously might not be another fight at Welterweight to interest him.
Also on the November 16th Rory MacDonald fight Robbie Lawler in a WW contest. MacDonald would make a perfect challenger for GSP except for one thing... he and GSP have trained together for years, and both have said they will never fight each other. Lawler has looked very good starching Josh Koscheck, and Bobby Voelker since he returned to UFC and dropped to Welterweight. UFC would jump at the chance to give Lawler a title shot, but MacDonald is the favorite in this fight, and there is a very good chance he will win, and then stick to his word to not fight GSP.
Matt Brown was over 20 fights into his MMA career and hovering around the .500 mark. But he has now reeled off six straight wins, and while were not against the best competition, his last two against Jordan Mein, and Mike Pyle are serious wins that nobody can take disparage. On December 14th Brown will get his shot at top 5 WW, Carlos Condit. A win for Matt against Condit would almost certainly earn him a title shot, but that is easier said than done. Condit is a major step up for Brown, and Carlos will be big favorite going into their fight in December.
If the favorites win out, where does that leave the Welterweight division? Condit lost to GSP last November, and then to Hendricks in March. Nick Diaz is in self proclaimed retirement, and on a 2 fight losing streak. Jake Shields has already lost once to GSP, and UFC would be hard pressed to reward his lack of fan friendly action style with another shot anytime soon. Jake Ellenberger is coming off a loss. Tarec Saffiedine might have had a case, but even many of the people who knew him as the Strikeforce Champion have forgotten who he is as injuries have caused him miss out on his chance to build momentum following his defining win over Nate Marquardt. Dong Hyun Kim is on a nice winning streak, but his win over Erick Silva was a sloppy mess before he finished it in dramatic fashion.
Could UFC give Ben Askren an immediate shot... it might not be the craziest idea. Askren has cruised through nine Bellator fights with only one serious challenge (Jay Hieron). Over the last year Ben has taken to twitter, used interviews to repeatedly call out GSP for a wrestling match, takedown competition, or MMA fight. Ben believes that nobody in MMA can stop his takedowns, and that he is much better than GSP. UFC lacking other options might have been inclined to give Ben a title shot right off the bat (More likely they would have wanted him to win one fight, but it is possible). Askren has also indicated that he is willing to sit out the year long matching period that Bellator holds on his contract. Ben owns two youth wrestling academies with is brother, is scheduled to wrestle in the inaugural Agon wrestling event later this month, and constantly has teammates that he works with at Roufusport so he can find ways to stay busy.
Bjorn Rebney recognized the current situation in the WW division, and threw his statements out there to make it look like he was dictating terms to the UFC and effectively make sure that UFC does not do what he suggested. He is going to use UFC's pride against them to rule out a potentially compelling option for UFC come next spring, when GSP would be expected to fight again. I don't think for one second that Bjorn Rebney wants Ben Askren back in Bellator, unless it is for bottom dollar. Bellator's recent tournament champion Douglas Lima has the look, talent, a fan pleasing style, and a certain amount of charisma that could make him a future star. He also does not have so much talent that he embarrasses the rest of the division the way Askren has, and exposes the organizations inability has to build quality depth in one of MMA's deepest divisions.
I think Bjorn's other reason for this open offer is deflection. Top 10 Middleweight Yushin Okami is still a free agent, and if I had to guess I'd say he is not very close to signing with Bellator.
"If you want to say the best fighters in the world fight in your organization and one becomes available and you have the unfettered right to talk to him, pick up the phone and call him." - Bjorn Rebney
Bjorn's quote clearly is a shot back at everyone who is questioning why they are not signing available top 10 fighters like Okami, and earlier this year Jon Fitch. The difference of course is that UFC is not going to use the matching clause on a fighter that they just cut, while Bellator is still free to match any offer UFC makes to Askren just the same as they did with Eddie Alvarez.