It's been a few weeks since Ben Askren was officially released from his Bellator contract, and despite early rumblings that the UFC was interested in acquiring him, they ultimately passed on the opportunity, to the chagrin of many fans. With a few promotions throwing their offers at him, namely World Series of Fighting and ONE FC, the speculation was rampant as to where he would end up.
Finally, the announcement came down that he would be adding Evolve MMA as his secondary training camp, starting each camp at Roufusport in the US, and finishing in Singapore with Evolve. It was pretty much a foregone conclusion that he was headed to ONE FC. Yesterday, the speculation became reality when he announced on the MMA Hour that he had indeed signed an exclusive, two year, six fight contract with the Asian promotion.
I had the opportunity to speak with Ben following his segment on Helwani's show to ask a few more questions of my own (as well as some from my esteemed Bloody Elbow colleagues). He gave a little more detail into his contract, discussed how exactly the meeting with the UFC went down, the reason he feels Zuffa declined to make an offer and more. Here's what he had to say:
Stephie Daniels: Tell me a little more about your contract with ONE FC.
Ben Askren: The two years, six fights thing is a which ever comes first type thing. The contract is written so that they have to give me three fights per year.
Stephie Daniels: Will you just fight whoever ONE FC asks you to, or will you be pushing them to bring in actual welterweight talent to help you accumulate a better resume?
Ben Askren: When I couldn't sign with the UFC, I think my goal of being Number 1 in the world went out the window. There's just no way of doing that at Welterweight without being in the UFC. I could go 50-0 and as long as it's outside the UFC, I'm not going to be Number 1.
It's kind of a moot point now. My goal can't happen without the UFC, so I'll fight whoever they give me. I'm not overly concerned with it. I've never turned down a fight in my life; I don't plan on starting now, so whoever they want me to fight is who I will fight.
Stephie Daniels: Do you think the UFC is an option in two years, and is it something you will continue to build toward, if it is?
Ben Askren: I don't know. ONE FC gave me a pretty sweet contract, and I'm going to be making a lot of money with them over the course of the next couple years. It's a contract that builds as I keep winning, so at the end of two years, it will be something I have to think about.
The fact that I'm not in the UFC is almost ridiculous at this point. I kind of feel disrespected by it, and I don't know that I'll have a lot of motivation to go back in a couple of years and work for those people.
Stephie Daniels: You say that now, but I watch your Twitter feed when there are UFC welterweights fighting, and you're more than a little interested in them. You call them out, challenge them, etc.
Ben Askren: [Laughs] I know most of the fighters' skill levels are not that high anyway. It would not be very hard to beat them, so it does bother me to a certain extent. There are a lot of factors at play here. A lot can happen over the course of two years. I'm not going to rule out anything absolutely.
Stephie Daniels: Would you consider fighting at 185 if ONE FC could bring in more marquee names at that weight class?
Ben Askren: I wouldn't be fully against it, but obviously I'm a 170 pounder. I would be a small 185. If I clear out everyone in the Welterweight division, and it makes sense at the time, then yeah, I would consider it.
Stephie Daniels: Phil Baroni is already on Twitter trying to build hype for a fight between the two of you. Is that a fight that ONE FC has discussed with you? Will it be your debut fight with the promotion?
Ben Askren: I'm not sure and I don't know what ONE FC has planned. He is 0-2 in his last two fights, so he hasn't exactly been out there kicking butt and taking names like the New York Bad Ass should [laughs]. They are paying me a lot of money, so if they want me to beat up Phil Baroni, I'll beat up Phil Baroni. I'll probably feel bad about it, because it's kind of like beating up a senior citizen, and I wouldn't feel good about it, but I'm not saying I wouldn't do it.
Stephie Daniels: Do you think that it was Dana White, or Joe Silva, who was more set against your UFC signing?
Ben Askren: I have no idea. I took a picture with Joe in Milwaukee when the UFC was here. Other than that, I have never spoken to the man. If he has something against me, I'm not really sure what it would be.
I know Dana White doesn't like the whole Bellator thing, and I think he's more nervous that I'm going to come over there and kick everyone's ass. Maybe he thinks that would somehow verify that Bellator is a legitimate organization. It's kind of silly that because I fought for a certain organization in the past, it's now going to dictate my future.
Stephie Daniels: When you had your meeting with the UFC brass, what was Dana's demeanor toward you?
Ben Askren: Lorenzo was there, and a few of the other UFC execs were there, but Dana phoned in to the meeting via conference call. He didn't say anything almost. Me and Lorenzo and my management talked and bullshitted a little bit, then we talked about the issue at hand after that. Dana was on the conference call, but honestly, he didn't say much. He said a few words here and there. It wasn't negative and it wasn't positive. It really wasn't much of anything.
Stephie Daniels: Did you try to get a 1 year deal?
Ben Askren: WSOF offered a 1 year deal and so did ONE FC initially. Honestly, they were both really good deals. I was annoyed by what had happened, so we asked what kind of 2 year deals they could offer. In the end, I had two offers for 2 years, 6 fights on the table, and both were very lucrative. I just picked the one that was better. At the end of the day, I'm being taken care of by a good organization.
Stephie Daniels: What's your relationship like with the Missouri coaching staff? You are one of the best alum to come from there, but at the same time, you're also a beacon that could pull a lot of upcoming talent from the freestyle pipeline.
Ben Askren: Coach Smith supports MMA. I'm successful, Mike is successful, Tyron is very successful, so we've got a lot of great crossovers into MMA. I have a great relationship with the whole Missouri athletic department. I made friends with everyone from the administrators to the janitors and everyone in between. I go back about three times a year, and I don't think Coach Smith has any qualms about making MMA a career. It's a great crossover opportunity and he has no issue with that at all.
Stephie Daniels: With you being so emphatic about testing and being clean, what's your take on how Hendricks handled the WADA/VADA stuff?
Ben Askren: That was funny. If he's not guilty, he sure made himself look that way. The way I read it, he initially challenged GSP, probably thinking that he wouldn't accept. When GSP accepted, Johnny backed out of it for whatever reason.
Stephie Daniels: Who do you feel won that fight?
Ben Askren: I had it scored for Johny, 3-2. I really think he won the first round, but I can definitely see the argument for the other way, with GSP winning.
Stephie Daniels: Looking forward to your time at Evolve, do you want to cross train with someone in particular all the way out there? Aoki? Some of Duke's old Muay Thai contacts? Hume?
Ben Askren: I'll be spending most of my time at Roufusport, which is where I live. I will be finishing my camps at Evolve, and I had a great time when I was there in 2012. Aoki wasn't there at the time, but they have a lot of really high level Muay Thai and Jiu-Jitsu people, so it should work out well for me. I have the wrestling background, and they can help me expand my knowledge in other areas.
Stephie Daniels: Before Bellator completely released you, did the UFC contact you at all while you were under a matching clause? Did they ever make an actual offer at any point?
Ben Askren: They had given me that two week break during the matching period to talk to the UFC and there were a few conversations, but not much came out of that. There was never an actual offer on the table from the UFC.
Stephie Daniels: The idea that you didn't have enough wins seems patently absurd, so what do you think the real reason is that you weren't signed by the UFC? Was it punishment for coming from Bellator or do you think it's the same reason Fitch and Okami are no longer in the UFC - they no longer are welcoming grinders?
Ben Askren: I know for a fact it's because I came from Bellator. It's like two teenaged girls. Susie says, ‘Hey Sally, I like Mike.' Sally says, ‘I like Mike, too.' Susie is scared that Mike is going to go to Sally, so she says, ‘I don't like Mike anymore.' Of course Sally is going to say, ‘You know what, I don't like him anymore, either.' Honestly, that's the level we're working with right now.
Stephie Daniels: After the UFC didn't make the offer did you toy with the idea of going back to Bellator or were they completely off the table at that point?
Ben Askren: You know, I feel like Bjorn and I left on good terms, but at that point, I never considered going back. I have nothing against Bellator at all. A lot of people try to paint Bjorn as a bad guy, but frankly, as the person who is caught up in this mess, I just don't see it that way.
He said the obvious. He said I'm one dimensional. Guess what, I am. So what. I'm not scared of it, I'm not ashamed of it. I'm not worried about it and I don't give a shit.
Stephie Daniels: If the UFC refuses to sign you and they have a lockdown on the other 19 of the top 20 ranked fighters, how do you plan to improve your position?
Ben Askren: It's impossible. Even if I beat up Rousimar Palhares and Jon Fitch, I might move from Number 8 to Number 7? It's impossible at this point.
Stephie Daniels: Why do you think the UFC was pushing you so hard towards WSOF?
Ben Askren: I'm not sure, really. If you look into the previous business dealings of WSOF and who owns them, I wouldn't be surprised at all if they were somehow connected with the UFC.
Stephie Daniels: Were you aware of the NBC deal WSOF managed to put into place for two events for primtime television spots when you were negotiating?
Ben Askren: I did know about them, yes. I don't really want to be famous. My wife and I were talking about it and I can go fight in Asia and be a recognizable name and still be able to come back home and go to the grocery store pretty much unnoticed [laughs]. There's obviously pluses and minuses to being famous, but I think I'll get the best of both worlds with this deal.
Stephie Daniels: In ONE FC have you thought about using a Sakuraba or DJ Gozma type entrance?
Ben Askren: I don't know. I've got to get the cultural rundown first. I know how to talk shit and push buttons in America, but everyone's culture is different, so I've got to figure out what my schtick is going to be, if I use one.
Stephie Daniels: Who wins in a folk style match at 74kg, you or Jordan Burroughs?
Ben Askren: Jordan has taken it to a new level over the last couple years. When I was fresh out of college, I like my chances. Now...my chances are a little more slim. I'm definitely one of the most dangerous folkstyle wrestlers, but he's raised his level so much that my chances aren't what they used to be. That's not to say I don't have a chance, because I do.
Stephie Daniels: ONE FC has some very good, high end sponsors. Have they talked to you at all about possible product endorsement for some of them?
Ben Askren: We touched on those topics, not deep conversation or anything, but it was there, and I certainly hope that something like that comes out of it.
Stephie Daniels: How long do you plan to continue fighting?
Ben Askren: Honestly, I think I'm past my expiration date, but I have got a few good rodeos left in me, so we'll see what happens.
Stephie Daniels: Do you see yourself finishing your career with ONE FC?
Ben Askren: It's definitely too early to tell.
Stephie Daniels: What do you think of the overwhelming fan support during this whole affair?
Ben Askren: It's very nice. I understand that there is a good portion of fairweather fans, but it's good to have the support. That doesn't mean that they won't turn on me tomorrow, though. I concern myself the most with the people that are directly around me; family, friends and teammates. If I'm good with those people, then I'm happy.
You can follow Ben via his Twitter account, @BenAskren