Bellator has released their welterweight champion Ben Askren and freed the Olympic wrestler to pursue unrestricted free agency. “I’ve said it many times, Ben’s a completely one-dimensional fighter who is utterly dominant in that dimension,” said Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney.
“I had a number of discussions with Ben and it became clear it was time for both parties to move in different directions.
“We’ve relinquished any right to match here and Ben can sign with whoever he chooses to sign with. Ben’s been at Bellator since the start of his career, I respect him and what he’s accomplished and wish him the best wherever he goes.”
Though Rebney has said for some time that he was not interested in re-signing Askren, the move is shocking for the mere fact that it amounts to a concession on Bellator's part that the promotion does not value winning and excellence from its fighters above all else. The UFC has often drawn criticism in the past for letting top fighters who are less than always scintillating and who have also hit a rough patch like Jon Fitch and Yushin Okami.
Releasing a fighter who doesn't fight recklessly after they've lost as the UFC often does is a far cry from letting perhaps the best fighter on your roster walk away after making no attempt to re-sign them, as Bellator has just done with Askren.
This move, of course, is fresh on the heels of Bellator signing multiple former UFC fighters coming off of losses. MMA legends Tito Ortiz and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson were picked up by Bellator in 2013 and the promotion built a pay-per-view around them before an injury to Ortiz scrapped the matchup.
After losing their last UFC fights, Bellator also signed Cheick Kongo and Joey Beltran this year. In fact, Beltran will go straight from losing in the UFC to headlining a Bellator card when he fights Jackson this week.
Ortiz and Jackson's combined record over each of their last ten fights is 7-12-1. Each have lost their last three bouts.
Askren, on the other hand, is an undefeated 12-0 and has dominated every other top Bellator welterweight. Half of Askren's wins have come by way of submission or KO or TKO.
That's roughly the same finishing percentage of the sport's biggest star, UFC welterweight champion Georges St. Pierre. Not only is Bellator's release of Askren an admission that they are not intent on holding onto their top talent, it is an implicit admission that they don't know how to successfully promote a wrestling-based, dominant champion - exactly what the UFC does with St. Pierre to the tune of him being their top pay per view draw.
You don't have to look too far back to see that Bellator puts on great fights. However, it is becoming increasingly clear that, despite Rebney's past assertions to the contrary, Bellator's role in the MMA landscape is that of a minor league for future UFC talent to develop as well as a place for former UFC fighters to go after they begin to lose.
None of this likely matters to Askren as he is now free to pursue the one goal that he has said is keeping him in MMA - becoming the UFC welterweight champion. After his release was announced, the always brash Askren tweeted, "I am now free to go to the @UFC and beat whoever I want."
Do you think that Askren has a chance against the likes of Georges St. Pierre and Johny Hendricks in the UFC? Let us know in the comments section.
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