The opening seconds of Ben Askren’s Ultimate Fighting Championship debut perfectly foreshadowed his noteworthy yet disappointing run in the Las Vegas-based promotion.
Askren’s showdown with former welterweight champion Robbie Lawler at UFC 235 on March 2 started like most of his fights, as the four-time NCAA All-American wrestler immediately went for a takedown. However, Lawler managed to stuff the double-leg attempt and punished the former One Championship and Bellator MMA titleholder by slamming him to the ground. “Ruthless Robbie” then unloaded a barrage of punches that bloodied Askren and could have resulted in a stoppage. Askren’s debut could not have gotten off to a worse start.
The resilient Askren managed to stay in the fight despite the early adversity. He then secured a double-leg takedown and took Lawler’s back. A rear-naked choke attempt was switched to a bulldog choke, and referee Herb Dean, believing Lawler was out, stopped the fight. However, Lawler was clearly conscious as soon as the fight ended and immediately protested the stoppage.
The highly questionable stoppage put a blemish on Askren’s lone victory inside the Octagon and undermined what was an incredible comeback. In retrospect, both fighters were done a disservice by Dean’s quick stoppage, as a rematch never occurred despite UFC President Dana White’s interest in running the fight back. As a result, their encounter was named Sherdog’s 2019 “Robbery of the Year” by a landslide, with nearly 75 percent of the vote.
Askren-Lawler beat out Augusto Sakai-Andrei Arlovski for ROTY. Sakai was awarded a split decision over the former heavyweight champion at UFC Fight Night 150 on April 27. However, few observers saw the verdict as just, as Arlovski landed the more effective shots during the bout. All three Sherdog judges scored it for the Belarusian, two of them believing he had done enough to win all three rounds.