Now that the first big trade in mixed martial arts history is a done deal, everyone is wondering what comes next.
ONE Championship introduced former UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson to its world by holding a media conference call on Monday, although no details of his first opponent were revealed. Similarly, there’s no word yet as to whom Ben Askren, the former ONE welterweight champion, will face when he makes his Octagon debut.
Both men have been fighting at the top of the division with their now-former organizations for years, so it’s to be expected that they’ll jump into the deep end of the pool when each bridges over to his new fighting home.
UFC president Dana White confirmed as much on Monday, when he told TMZ Sports that Askren would debut opposite a Top 5 opponent.
“We’re still working on it. Obviously, he’s gonna come into the welterweight division, 170 pounds, he’s undefeated, he’s their champion, so we’re excited about it,” White said when asked whom Askren would face first.
“He’s definitely gonna fight somebody in the Top 5.”
That would certainly narrow down the field of potential opponents for Askren’s debut. The UFC’s current welterweight division in order from 1 to 5 is Colby Covington, Darren Till, Rafael Dos Anjos, Stephen Thompson, and Robbie Lawler.
Unless the wind shifts, Covington is expected to challenge welterweight champion Tyron Woodley in his next fight. Dos Anjos is also already booked, as he is slated to fight No. 6 ranked Kamaru Usman in The Ultimate Fighter 28 Finale headliner in December. And if he doesn’t change course, Darren Till most recently indicated that he was planning on moving up to the middleweight division for his next bout.
There were talks swirling around Stephen Thompson and Robbie Lawler potentially fighting each other, but that bout has yet to fully materialize.
Askren entering the picture could certainly cause a sea change in thinking for several of the aforementioned fighters, as well. Till, in particular, might be swayed into remaining at welterweight for such a challenge, especially considering that he recently lost to Askren’s friend and sometime training partner Woodley.
Though Thompson’s sights have been set on Lawler, he’s generally down to fight any worthy challenge, and Askren would easily fit the bill.
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Lawler is a wildcard considering he hasn’t fought in nearly a year and hasn’t made many public indications of when or who he would like to fight next.
Covington isn’t too likely to give up the title shot for which he has already been waiting.
There is always the extreme wildcard in former welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre, who said that he isn’t interested in a title run. He is only interested in legacy fights; more specifically, something that hasn’t been done before. Considering Askren is undefeated, there could be the allure of that on the side of the UFC trying to book such a fight: “The UFC’s greatest welterweight of all time vs. ONE Championship’s greatest welterweight of all time.”
With the transfer finally officially acknowledged by both fight promotion’s, it will only be a matter of time before we find out when and where Askren will make his UFC debut.
Dana White Talks Demetrious Johnson for Ben Askren UFC-ONE Championship Trade
(Video courtesy of TMZSports | Viewing may be limited by broadcast rights restrictions)