Bjorn Rebney disputes the notion that the world’s best talent resides in the UFC. | Keith Mills/Sherdog.com
Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney caused a stir on Thursday when he announced to ESPN that he would waive his matching rights to allow welterweight champion and restricted free agent Ben Askren to sign with the Ultimate Fighting Championship, on the condition that UFC officials awarded Askren an immediate shot at their welterweight title.
Rebney commented on the offer in detail with Sherdog.com’s Keith Mills during a video interview following Bellator 103 in Wichita, Kan., addressing a variety of topics, including Askren’s wrestling dominance, Georges St. Pierre’s fighting style and UFC President Dana White’s criticism of Bellator’s matching rights:
On whether the UFC has the best fighters in the world under contract:
“The UFC consistently says the best fighters in the world fight in the UFC. They don’t. I believe Michael Chandler is the best lightweight in MMA and that Pat Curran is one of the top-two featherweights in the world. [Eduardo] Dantas is a freak. Askren is in the top six or seven. So, if you’re going to make that statement, when one of the top six or seven [welterweights] in the world becomes available, you’ve got to pick up the phone and make him an offer, or you can’t continue to say, ‘The best fighters in the world fight here,’ because they don’t.”
On Askren’s ranking and the reason behind waiving matching rights:
“Ben is ranked across the board as one of the top six or seven welterweights in the world. He’s been utterly dominant here in Bellator. It’s not a shock to anyone when I say it: he’s incredibly one-dimensional, but that one dimension of his is more dominant than any fighter in mixed martial arts. I think he’s the best wrestler we have in MMA, and I honestly believe he’s one of the best welterweights in the game. If you don’t like somebody’s style, figure out a way to beat it. That’s why we call it mixed martial arts.
“There are a lot of fighters [in the UFC] who can’t beat Ben Askren and who aren’t ranked as highly as Ben Askren. I heard [the UFC’s] excuse, which was the matching rights issue, so I figured, if that is the true issue -- which it isn’t -- but if it were, then I will waive the matching rights if you just give him a world title fight. It was as simple as that.”
On White’s criticism of Bellator previously exercising matching rights:
“I think that the matching rights issue is one that the UFC has made a huge amount of noise about, but the fact is that every single UFC contract has the exact same matching rights in it that our contracts have. There is no difference in the rights they have in terms of matching and the rights we have in terms of matching. They exercise them, and we exercise them. I don’t for a minute believe that is the true issue. I think there is something else at play in terms of them either not wanting Ben or not wanting him to fight their existing champion.
“The matching rights were an issue with Hector Lombard. They submitted a contract to us, and we took 10 minutes to read it and decided we weren’t going to match. Eddie Alvarez was a different situation. We decided to match, and now Alvarez is going to fight Chandler on our pay-per-view. In the Ben Askren situation, they are more than welcome to make an offer that we have an opportunity to match. If you don’t want to deal with the matching rights -- which is disingenuous and an untrue statement -- but if you don’t, then let him fight your champion, and I will walk away. We won’t match anything, and I will just root for Ben.
“And if you don’t want to do that, then I will try to re-sign Ben. Then if you want to fight the best welterweight in the world, you can come here to Bellator, work like a crazed dog on your wrestling, and see if you can stuff Ben Askren’s takedowns.”
On Georges St. Pierre and Askren’s reliance on wrestling:
“I’m a huge ‘GSP’ fan. Everybody in MMA is a huge ‘GSP’ fan, but you’ve watched his fights over the last couple of years, he has begun to disproportionately rely on his wrestling -- much more so than he did earlier in his career -- and as wrestlers go, Ben Askren is the best in the game. In a MMA fight that is focused on wrestling, Ben Askren beats anybody in the world at 170 pounds.
“Stylistically, I appreciate what Ben does. I like watching Ben fight, and I know not everybody does, but there are a lot of people who don’t like watching other fighters who are the near the top in an organization. Some people say “GSP” is not as fun to watch as he once was. I’ve got great admiration for him, watching him fight, and I think he has matured to the point where he is able to lessen the amount of damage he takes and prevail in a different manner, and I respect the heck out of that. I love watching him fight.
“I have the same respect for Ben Askren, but when he’s reached the same level, I think he just deserves an honest discourse on whether he’s going to stay here in Bellator and rule here or try to go somewhere else and rule there. I think everybody should be honest about the reasons why they either are or are not picking up the phone.”
On whether his offer was actually made to entice Askren to leave Bellator:
“I talk to Ben on a weekly basis. I have a longstanding relationship with him. He is brutally honest with me, and I’m brutally honest with him. If I wanted to get rid of him, I’d just call him up and say, ‘Go wherever you want to go. Good luck. Go beat up people somewhere else.’”
On the UFC’s response:
“We’ll see what they do. I’ve heard no response from them at all, which is unusual and an anomaly. I think it puts them in a difficult spot to claim the best fighters fight in the UFC.”