Bellator rarely gets any positive feedback from people for the craziest of reasons. But this morning they did something that benefitted both them and a fighter. Bjorn Rebney announced that Askren’s status as a free agent would be official, as the company released the welterweight champion from any contractual obligations. It’s a win for both sides, really, and fans should be rejoicing as well.
He’s now free and clear to sign wherever he wants and Bellator should be commended for doing so. They didn’t have to, as they could have stuck contractually and forced Askren to sit out the next seven months of his prime. They could’ve fought him tooth and nail like they did Eddie Alvarez, losing in the court of public opinion for a long time. There are a lot of things they could’ve done in this situation that are perfectly legal, and ethical, but they didn’t.
They did the right thing after trying to get Askren to resign with the company and they should be given their proper respect for it. Sometimes it is better to walk away from a bad situation than to worsen it. Askren had the leverage of his highly profitable wrestling camps, and a spot in Agon Wrestling Championships, that could’ve occupied his time while Bellator made him wait out his contract. They didn’t and now everyone can move on without this dark cloud hanging over them.
Now the situation for Askren, after he presumably signs with Zuffa, is who and where he fights next. So far we know that Askren is probably a Top 10 caliber fighter when it comes to the welterweight division. I say probably because we don’t know it authoritatively. He passes the eyeball test and if I we ranked fighters at Inside Fights I’d place him at about #5 or so in the division.
We don’t have much evidence on how he’d do against the elite as the only fight he’s had against someone who went to the UFC after fighting Askren was Jay Hieron. Hieron has been the guy good enough to be in the UFC but never good enough to stay there for any period of time. That’s a mark on his record, of course, and those who do MMA Math will hold it against Askren. If he can barely beat a guy like Hieron what makes one think he’d do as well in the UFC? It’s a valid argument but one I don’t subscribe to.
What we do know is Askren has two things going for him. He’s got the best wrestling in MMA, for starters. Chael Sonnen and GSP may be the best wrestlers in the UFC currently but Askren is better than both. The other is that he is an absolute star in the making. His style may be boring for the “just bleed” types but in front of a microphone Askren is gold. He compares to Sonnen very favorable in this regard; Askren is good at being disliked enough to get people to pay to see him fight.
It’s a win-win-win situation for all involved. Ben Askren gets the right to find out his worth without waiting to see if Bellator will match. Bellator gets to move from it all, letting their welterweight division move forward while also gaining some positive P.R for a change. And fans will potentially get to see the best welterweight in the world not under a Zuffa contract get one … and see just how good he really is.
Tags: Bellator, Ben Askren, Mixed Martial Arts