The UFC’s current division structure has hit something of a state of fluctuation. Most notably, reported plans to kill off the men’s flyweight (125 lb) division appear to be creeping ahead, with multiple fighters released in the last couple weeks. But when one door closes, perhaps another will open. That’s the hope of a few fighters toiling away in the lightweight and welterweight divisions.
Back in September Nate Diaz and Dustin Poirier took it upon themselves to set up a 165 lb title fight around their planned matchup at UFC 230 at Madison Square Garden. Dana White was quick to officially snuff the idea - and eventually the fight itself was cancelled due to injuries — but it got a lot of people talking. Among them, fighters interested in easing the 15 lb gaps between lightweight, welterweight, and middleweight.
One of those is recently signed welterweight, and former Bellator and ONE Championship title holder, Ben Askren. Askren made his case for why the UFC should consider moving welterweight to 175 lbs and creating a new division at 165.
“I think everyone wants it,” Askren told the assembled media backstage at UFC 230. “I think it provides, from a business opportunity – not from me as a fighter – if I’m looking at it from a business opportunity, you now have (and they’re talking about doing away with the flyweights) but you now have an extra belt, right? And the other thing is, it provides a lot of chances for superfight opportunities. I mean, how many times have we had a sitting champion at one of those weight classes – 55, 70, or 85 – go to fight another one. I think the answer is zero. You guys can go ahead and correct me if I’m wrong. I believe the answer is zero.
“And so, I think if you change to 55, 65, 75, 85, man that’s a lot easier to move around. And I just feel, for myself, like... I’m a 70 pounder. I can’t make 55, I can’t do it. I made 163 for the Olympics, I can’t go lower than that. 185? I’m tiny up there. So, I’m stuck. And that’s a 30 lb gap, so it’s not like that’s a small gap. Now, if you have 65 and 75, I can make both of those. And I think you’d have a... Kelvin Gastelum could probably make a 75 and 85. You’ve got a Khabib who could fight 55, 65. And so you’d have more of these superfights, more inter-divisional stuff. Which is good.
“Because what fans want to see – and one of the intrigues behind me – is that they want to see shit they haven’t seen before,” Askren explained. “And when we’ve seen the same guys fight over and over and over again, it’s boring — when you know what’s going to happen. We want to see things we have not seen before. It’s one of the intrigues behind me. And I think if you create 55, 65, 75, 85 you would have a lot more of that happening.”
Askren is currently rumored to be facing former UFC welterweight champion Robbie Lawler at UFC 233 in January. The event is set to be headlined by a superfight between bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw and flyweight champion Henry Cejudo. Bouts between Dominick Cruz & John Lineker and James Vick & Paul Felder have also been penciled in for the undercard.