Ben Askren finds himself in a strange predicament. He’s undefeated, a champion, finished his last two fights and is broadly ranked as a top ten welterweight – but Bellator don’t want to keep him and the UFC don’t seem to want him either.
The reasons for this shouldn’t surprise anyone. Despite Askren’s flawless record, he remains a relatively one dimensional martial artist, winning his fights via exemplary wrestling and even his TKO stoppages tend to come from volume of strikes against an opponent who can’t improve their position, rather than any truly impressive striking or power.
In short – he’s a bit dull for anyone other than a committed wrestling afficionado.
This is by no means a rule for wrestlers in MMA as a legion of fighters – notably including Jon Jones, Daniel Cormier, Michael Chandler, Johny Hendricks – have all added dynamic striking to the positional advantage that wrestling gives them and hence have earned their share of highlight reel KO victories.
Does a lack of appeal for the casual or ‘just bleed’ fans make a top level fighter actively unattractive to top promotions?
Is it right that big promotions pass on a successful fighter just because he’s not as fun as he might be? Isn’t this a sport, where athletic achievement is what matters most?
On the other hand, MMA is a solo sport, an entertainment sport where fans pay to watch compelling fighters over and above any attachment to tournament, promotion or championship.
From a purely financial PoV, you can have dull footballers who are regarded as top level and even beloved by their own club’s fans, but that’s because football is marketed more on established competitions and local/hereditary loyalty. There is room for one part of the machine to be all graft so long as others have that highlight reel cutting edge and/or as long as the team wins…
Dana White has advised Askren to go to WSOF and there are a bundle of interesting fights for him there – Steve Carl, Josh Burkman, Jon Fitch, Gerald Harris, Aaron Simpson and Jorge Santiago could all provide compelling challenges, but wouldn’t bouts against Rory MacDonald, Dong Hyun Kim, Gunnar Nelson, Josh Koscheck, Mike Pierce etc. be even more so, and surely it’s best to have such a talent in house than potentially evolving into a megastar elsewhere?
Dana clearly doesn’t see dollar signs or at the very least, value for money in Askren as things stand but he’s signed fighters with far less evident upside and shouldn’t the UFC have the ‘elite level’ fighters where possible, even if they aren’t all as much fun as their more flamboyant peers?
In any case, I ask you – would YOU sign Ben Askren?