Ben Askren had his sights set on a UFC contract, but when it didn't materialize, he instead chose to sign with ONE FC in a move which has dominated the headlines in the mixed martial arts (MMA) media this week.
The 12-0 former Bellator welterweight champion is widely considered to be a top-10 fighter despite not fighting for ZUFFA and was expected to be an immediate contender for Georges St. Pierre’s division strap, but UFC opted to pass on the former collegiate wrestler.
UFC President Dana White’s justification was that, despite having cleared out the Bellator welterweight division and beaten numerous highly-ranked opponents, Askren was not quite ready for the UFC and needed more experience first.
It has been noted elsewhere that UFC subsequently signed 2-0 Singaporean Royston Wee, who has not fought since 2011 and never beaten an opponent with a win to their name. It is one of the reasons that Askren feels White was being duplicitous.
"It is nonsense. The UFC has a history of signing all of the best fighters and since I am in the top 10 in every ranking, I figured it would happen, guess I was wrong," he said.
White took the unusual step of explicitly advising Askren to accept an offer from World Series of Fighting (WSOF), but instead, Askren elected to sign with ONE FC and will begin plying his trade in Asia next year.
Askren says the seeds were sown for the deal during a training trip to Singapore last year and that he hopes to help the organization to expand outside of its existing Asian powerbase.
"I got to know some of the people involved with ONE FC when I was in Singapore in 2012 and I didn't get the opportunity to join the UFC, so I joined the next biggest thing. ONE FC is already bigger than PRIDE was in Asia and I hope to be a part of its expansion."
Regardless of whether Askren finds himself fighting in Singapore at some stage next year, he will definitely be training there after joining the Evolve MMA fight team in a move which seemingly precipitated his signing with ONE FC.
The 28 year old, who wrestled at the 2008 Olympics and is also a No Gi grappling world champion, plans to finish off all his future fight camps in Singapore.
"Evolve is an awesome gym, one of the top in the world, and I really enjoyed my time there in 2012. They have a world-class coaching staff and fight team. Since I was going to fight in ONE FC, it just seemed to make sense," he said.
The question of whether he would be capable of clearing out the UFC welterweight division looks set to remain unanswered and Askren feels that will be a major source of frustration for fans who simply want to see the best fight the best,
"I think the fans who are true fans of MMA are very disappointed that I didn't sign with the UFC because they know I can compete with the best immediately."
Askren admits that when Bellator decided to cut him loose he had only envisaged fighting in the UFC and testing himself against the likes of Johny Hendricks and St Pierre, but while those are match-ups we are unlikely to ever see, he is still excited to be competing under the banner of Asia’s biggest MMA promotion.
"ONE FC has done a great job cornering the market in Asia. And I am excited to fight in front of the billions of fans in Asia."