Ben Askren’s time in mixed martial arts is up.
The ONE Championship middleweight titleholder and former Bellator welterweight champion said he would hang up the gloves after his ONE bout with Shinya Aoki last weekend in Singapore. And he’s standing by that, he told Ariel Helwani on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour.
The undefeated Askren is also standing by something else he has said over the last few weeks: He would come out of retirement to face the best welterweight in the world. That provision extends to Georges St-Pierre, the UFC middleweight champion and former welterweight titleholder, Askren said.
“There’s this other guy who was a very famous welterweight named Georges St-Pierre who doesn’t seem to have a dance partner right now,” Askren said. “And doesn’t seem to want to fight Tyron [Woodley] or Robert Whittaker. So I figure, he doesn’t want to get hit hard, I don’t hit that hard. So we might as well just get in there and get after it.”
St-Pierre came back after four years away from the cage to win the middleweight strap from Michael Bisping by third-round TKO at UFC 217 earlier this month in New York. Whittaker is the interim middleweight champion and GSP has said that it is in his contract to unify the belts.
If that doesn’t happen, Askren (18-0, 1 NC) said he’ll be ready and waiting in the first half of 2018.
“If he needs a dance partner, I’m more than willing to do it,” Askren said. “I’ll come to Montreal and fit the bill for him. We’ll fill out the Bell Centre.”
Askren, 33, said he will not fight Woodley, even though Woodley’s status as the UFC welterweight champion makes him the best in the world in that division. Askren and Woodley are training partners with Roufusport and have been friends since they were wrestling teammates at the University of Missouri. Askren said he would fight the UFC 170-pound champion if Woodley were to lose, but he doesn’t envision that happening any time soon.
In Bellator, the welterweight belt will be on the line in January when champion Douglas Lima faces former UFC top contender Rory MacDonald. Askren has already beaten Lima and a fight with MacDonald does not necessarily interest him.
“Here’s the deal on the Rory thing,” Askren said. “And who knows, maybe he wins the next six fights and this changes. But here’s exactly what’s gonna happen. And this already happened with Aoki. I already beat up Aoki, everybody says he’s over the hill and he sucks.
“If I beat Rory MacDonald, everyone says he’s not the same as he was before the Robbie [Lawler] fight. That’s what every single person says. I will not get the credit for it if I beat him. That’s why I want to be very clear. I want whoever I fight to be the No. 1, so there’s no ifs, ands or buts about it. Here’s the No. 1, I fight him, I beat him, I’m No. 1. That’s all she wrote.”
If Bellator or the UFC offered Askren a contract that doesn’t contain him fighting for the title or St-Pierre right away, Askren said he would not do it.
“I’ve never said I’m retired, period,” Askren said. “I’ve said that I’m retired with the caveat that if I somehow get to fight to prove that I’m No. 1 in the world, I will take that opportunity. I’m not gonna fight to be No. 3 or 5 or 7 or anything else. Just to be No. 1, that’s it. It’s not really a money thing, it’s a pride thing.”
Askren beat Aoki by TKO in 57 seconds Friday. He’s unbeaten in six ONE fights, rarely even being challenged. In Bellator, he dominated the competition from 2010 to 2013. The one knock on his career from fans is that he was never put up against the best fighters in the world consistently. Askren will argue that he made good money, did not get hit much over the last few years and the lack of competition was not necessarily his fault.
In 2013, Askren sat down with then-UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta in Las Vegas with UFC president Dana White on speaker phone. Askren has told the story before and said there were many reasons why the UFC didn’t want to sign him. White famously said Askren should go to World Series of Fighting and “show what he’s got.”
“I think there was three or four different reasons that kind of compounded on top of each other why they made that decision,” Askren said. “At the end of the day, I left Vegas without an offer.”
Askren still holds the hope that he could one day still fight for the UFC, but right now the only opponent that makes sense for him is GSP. Askren said he has no trust in White, who he referred to as “egghead,” and White would have to be put on the back burner for a deal to be made.
Despite the apparent obstacles, Askren said he thinks it could happen and some things might occur soon that would make him versus St-Pierre more of a possibility. Askren said he would have ONE’s blessing to do it.
“There’s a lot of things coming down the pipe that could make this happen,” Askren said. “Obviously the biggest one being the Ali Act, that could be a big deal. And there’s some other things coming down the pipe that could make this more realistic than it may seem today. … I can’t play all my cards.”