A few years back, it seemed laughable that UFC President Dana White would have any interest in signing Ben Askren.
White said as much after Askren parted ways with Bellator MMA in 2013.
“[We have] no interest. I’m sure [World Series of Fighting] will pick him up. They [Bellator] don’t want him. It’s their champion, and they don’t want him. What does that say?” White said then.
“I feel sorry for the kids that fight there. I do. I truly feel sorry for the kids that have to be stuck in that s–thole. The fact you would just give away a guy that has gone undefeated for you, it just shows what kind of people you are, what kind of business you do. And as far as the level he’s on, he barely beat Jay Hieron. He’s got some work to do. He can fight in another organization and work his way up here some day.”
Some day has arrived. Askren was recently released from his One Championship contract so he could join the Las Vegas-based promotion. In turn, the UFC released former flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson so he could compete under the One banner, thus completing the first “trade” in MMA history. Askren’s signing was officially announced during the UFC 230 broadcast on Saturday night, and “Funky” was in attendance for the event at Madison Square Garden.
While White may have had harsh words for Askren in the past, he disputed the idea that he ever hated for the former Bellator and One titlist.
“We just talked. This guy thinks I hate him,” White said at the UFC 230 post-fight press conference. “If I hated you…I’m the one that came up with this deal, this was my idea. Why would I do this if I hated you so bad and didn’t want you to be here? It makes no sense.”
Shortly after the trade was completed, Askren playfully requested that White unblock him on Twitter. The UFC boss claims he has priorities other than social media but added that Askren’s request has been granted.
“I didn’t know that he was blocked on Twitter,” White said. “It wasn’t my first priority. I’ve been doing some s—t. But yes, I had my girl that does it unblock him on Twitter.”
Askren will enter the UFC with an 18-0 career mark. He doesn’t have an opponent as of yet, but White recently told TMZ Sports that the Olympic wrestler will receive a Top 5 opponent for his Octagon debut.
“In this sport, you find guys that people believe are great, or they believe they’re great. It’s very hard to go undefeated in this sport,” White said. “I don’t care who you are or who you’ve fought. When you have situations like this, I love bringing people like him in to find out if they really are. It’s incredible. In my opinion it’s a great deal for me.”