“Why didn’t you sign me in 2013?” Askren, 38, said in a recent interview with MMA Junkie Radio. “I don’t know. Tell me. I just want to know.”
Back in 2013, Askren was one of the most talked-about MMA fighters outside of the UFC. He’d entered the sport in 2009 with a wrestling pedigree that included two NCAA Division I national titles at the University of Missouri, a gold medal in the U.S. National Championships, and an appearance in the 2008 Summer Olympics.
Askren was 12-0, in the prime of his career and among the top welterweights in the world as a Bellator champion who’d defended his belt four times. When his Bellator contract ended after a TKO win over Andrey Koreshkov on July 31, 2013, Askren expected to move on to the UFC, something he details in his recently released book, Funky: My Defiant Path Through the Wild World of Combat Sports.
“I look back on that period like, how did I not get an offer?” Askren said.
According to Askren, the UFC showed a level of interest, but the promotion wanted him to get out of his matching clause with Bellator so that it didn’t have to negotiate with that in mind. Askren said he squared that away and faxed over the paperwork to the UFC in September 2013 during UFC 165 fight week.
“That afternoon, Dana’s in a scrum and he says, ‘We have no interest in Ben Askren,'” Askren recalled. “And it was like, wait, what just happened? What the f*ck?”
Askren said he called his agents wanting to fly out to Las Vegas to meet with UFC officials. The meeting didn’t include White. Askren remembers it was the same day that Daniel Cormier was would be there, as well, to discuss his situation after coming over in the Strikeforce acquisition.
Askren said on that ensuing Monday, the UFC gave him what he described as an “obscure offer.”
“Without getting too nuanced, what they offered me was that I would sign a contract with them, but I would do one fight in World Series of Fighting (now PFL),” Askren said. “They would pay my paycheck, they would do everything, and then after that singular fight I would come over to the UFC.”
Askren’s thoughts at the time?
“It’s dumb,” he said. “But whatever, you know? I’m in.”
The way Askren saw it, he would enter the UFC, win the welterweight title and get a new contract afterward. But later that day, Askren said, he was informed by his manager that the UFC was pulling its offer.
Looking back, Askren still has questions.
“How didn’t this happen? Why didn’t this happen? This is so dumb,” Askren said. “It’s one of those things you can’t have regrets about. There’s nothing else I could’ve done at that point in time. It was what it was.”
Askren went on to sign with ONE Championship where he continued his unbeaten run as its welterweight champion through November 2017. He finally officially joined the UFC in late 2018 after ONE traded him away for Demetrious Johnson.
Askren believes White appreciated him by the time he finally got to the UFC.
“You know what I think won him over was I just genuinely didn’t give a sh*t, and I wanted to fight good people,” Askren said. “OK, give me whoever you want. … For me, it was like, who do you want me to fight? When do you want me to fight? I’ll show up on time, I’ll make weight, and let’s go. No nonsense, no shenanigans, no asking for more money, no nothing. So I think he realized I’m actually real easy to deal with.”
Beyond his prime, Askren went 1-2 in the UFC in 2019, with a controversial win over former champion Robbie Lawler followed by a record-breaking knockout loss to Jorge Masvidal and a technical submission loss to Demian Maia.
Askren said he never had a call with White prior to joining the UFC and only talked to him when the promotion let him out of his contract so he could box Jake Paul in April 2021.