Ben Askren: Right on White and Better With ONE

Last week, UFC president, Dana White, had a marked change of opinion on recently-crowned, ONE FC welterweight champion, Ben “Funky” Askren. After Askren demolished Japan’s Nobutatsu Suzuki at ONE FC’s REIGN OF CHAMPIONS, White – who once called Askren “the most boring fighter in MMA history” – said he would consider signing the undefeated, former Bellator champion:

“I think if he keeps winning, he could get a shot over here. Ben Askren said a lot of stupid shit when he left, but I don’t care about stuff like that. We’ll see how the kid fights, what he keeps doing, and we’ll go from there.”

The “Funky” one was obviously not impressed with White’s change of heart. At first, Askren feigned appreciation, taking to his Twitter and sarcastically thanking “master” Dana for the compliments.

This week, however, the ONE FC champion put all joking aside and criticized what he saw as White’s similarities to a schoolyard bully:

“It’s kind of like all of us had that time in high school when we were bullied by the cool group of kids. Then we did something, then the cool group said ‘oh my god, can you be part of our group?’ Then some of us who didn’t have low self-esteem said ‘well, you didn’t want me the first time, I’m alright.’ Then some other people, they run, ‘the cool kids want to hang out with me? Yes, please.’ I think it’s kind of one of those things.”

While some of Askren’s feelings about the “Baldfather” could be chalked up to resentment over being passed up for a spot on the UFC welterweight roster, it is hard to prove the former Olympian wrong.

Take the women’s division as an example. No more than a half a decade ago (if that), White said women would never fight in his organization.

Everything changed, however, when current bantamweight champion, Ronda Rousey, entered the equation. Now, not only is Dana praising a woman (Rousey) as “the biggest star the UFC has ever had” but (in a rather ironic turn for a man who once barred women from the octagon – those who weren’t holding ring cards, at least) he is practically burning a bra in the face of what he perceives to be media sexism against Rousey:

She’s undefeated, she’s finished every fight in devastating fashion, but it’s still a man’s world, man. The media is never going to put her higher up in the rankings. The media decides it, and Ronda, being a woman, has had to fight harder. If there was a guy that was on the streak that Ronda was on, he’d be the number one pound-for-pound fighter in the world, like that. But because she’s a woman, these guys aren’t going to give her the credit she deserves.”

White’s openness to Askren in the UFC generated some talk about the former Bellator champ joining the company’s roster, but not only do Ben’s comments suggest he is probably not interested in the UFC, there are numerous reasons why he should stick with ONE FC instead.

First off, ONE’s president, Victor Cui, has praised Askren since the day the undefeated wrestler inked his contract. Cui called Askren “a world class fighter” and considered the disc golf enthusiast’s arrival in ONE to be “a monumental achievement for Asian MMA.” Given the choice between fighting for a man who calls him a “world class fighter” versus a man who once opined that watching him fight was worse than watching “flies f*ck” the choice should be a no-brainer for Askren.

There is also the fact that Cui has generally treated his fighters better than his UFC counterpart has. It would take no less than an encyclopedia to list all of the people the brash, outspoken, UFC president has insulted either on national television or on social media, but who could forget him calling Roy Nelson “stupid” on the set of The Ultimate Fighter? If Askren continued to work for Victor Cui, not only would he have a boss who respected him from the get-go, but who would continue to respect him.

Finally, there is the chance that ONE could grow bigger than its gargantuan American opponent. Granted, Cui’s company may only have a fraction of the UFC’s popularity, but not only is the Singaporean promotion growing, it is growing on the world’s most heavily populated continent.

ONE is already spreading across Asia. In 2013, Cui assured fans that his MMA promotion – which originally only held events in Southeast Asia – would break ground in both East Asia and the Middle East. In July and August, ONE made good on Cui’s promise by holding an event in Taipei and then in Dubai. Their upcoming event, RISE OF THE KINGDOM (which will be held on September 12) will mark the company’s first event in Cambodia.

What this means is that, by the end of September, ONE FC (which just turned four years old this week) will have held events in seven different countries. That is far more than any other MMA promotion in the world did at a similar age.

Furthermore, Cui has his sights set on pulling down the “bamboo curtain” and holding an event in the world’s most populous country: China. This is something the UFC has not even been able to do (Macau is a Special Administrative Region and therefore doesn’t count). Holding a show in a major Chinese city like Shanghai or Beijing would give ONE a strong foothold in a country that houses one-third of the world’s population.

Askren himself seems to have realized that joining the UFC may not be the right move:

“Having the letters UFC behind my name is not the be-all, end-all it is for someone. Some people think once they get into the UFC, that’s it. I think with having more large organizations in the word, it’s going to be great for the fighters, because right now the fighters are being underpaid greatly, in my opinion, and I was one who was able to step outside that box and go find a great paycheck somewhere else.

With ONE’s growing popularity and a boss who respects him, it is fairly obvious why “Funky” Ben Askren should stick with ONE FC.

Chris Zahar is an American-born journalist. He has been covering Asian MMA since 2013, and his work has been featured in both Fight of the Night and Yahoo Sports. He has also interviewed such top Asian, ONE FC stars as Rob Lisita, Paul Cheng, and Sam "Sung Ming Yen." Chris also has the honor of training at TOUGH MMA, the only Taiwanese fight team to have exclusive partnership with ONE Fighting Championship. In his spare time, Chris not only enjoys mixed martial arts, but studies politics, philosophy, and Chinese. He is also happily married and a proud father to his son. Chris resides in Taiwan.