What To Make Of The Askren/Johnson Deal?

When news broke of a proposed “trade” between powerhouse MMA promotions, One FC and UFC, fans were understandably excited. Never before had we seen a true talent swap at this level, and in terms of the names involved, the talent couldn’t have been higher. 

Former UFC Flyweight king Demetrious Johnson would be heading to One FC, while former Bellator and One FC Welterweight champion Ben Askren would finally make his UFC debut. However, even with talent such as this, it is hard to measure who will truly win this deal right now, maybe ever. Both promotions are receiving other worldly type talents but it is how each man’s talent fits into the promotion that will be the tipping point.

For Johnson, he is about to become a very large fish heading into a very small pond. One FC’s current Flyweight champion, Geje Eustaquio, sits with an 11-6 record, and is coming off of a very disputed title win over former champion Adriano Moraes, now 17-3. Now we can never say these men couldn’t possibly defeat Johnson, but I think it is safe to say we all think neither of these men can defeat Johnson. 

The one intriguing matchup for Johnson would be current Bantamweight champion Bibiano Fernandes, but with both being AMC Pankration members under Matt Hume, that fights seems like a fantasy at this point. At 32 years of age, and with 31 professional bouts during his now 11 year career, it is very possible that Johnson is coming to an end as a professional, and his stop at One FC is simply a farewell tour. Make some fast money, enjoy his time in Asia where he will surely become a fan favourite, and ride off into the sunset as the greatest Flyweight ever. 

While all of that is simply hyperbole, none of it really signifies a win for One FC besides one obvious point: they have a very well known fighter that will fight now, unlike the recently retired Ben Askren. As Hume is high ranking member of the One FC family, promotion for Johnson will reach a level he never even saw glimpses of in America under the UFC banner. But as we all know, Asian culture follows its own path most days, so Johnson’s appeal may be totally independent from the expected in cage success he will surely have. Sure, One FC will reap some of those benefits, but no more realistically than what Askren or the newly signed Eddie Alvarez had, or will bring. 

The true measuring stick of this seem to fall on the shoulders of Askren. An undefeated professional since 2009, Askren has always been the big fish in any pond he entered, first Bellator and then One FC. But now, he is about to enter the ocean as just another fish, and people must wonder if his skillset is ready for what is coming. Never one to mince words, Askren has seemingly called out any and all of the UFC Welterweight division, as well as some Lightweights. 

No offence to the man called “Funky” but fighters such as Colby Covington, Khabib Nurmagomedov and Kamaru Unman are nothing like Askren’s recent opponents, Zebaztian Kadestam, Agilan Thani and Nikolay Aleksakhin. Even his most recent win over Lightweight legend Shinya Aoki doesn’t hold the same value it would have a few years ago. His wrestling might be some of the best the MMA world has ever seen, but pedigree isn’t a guarantee of victory at this level.

But now, the man many have called boring, aka technical, is about to challenge some of the top fighters in one of the deepest divisions within the UFC, all while possessing a top heavy, but far from deep, tool box of skills? Unlike Johnson, Askren is now 34 years old, and has spent the last 4 years either on the sidelines or fighting far less superior talent under the One FC banner.

Even with the obvious talent Askren holds, it has been over 5 years since we have seen him compete against even remotely talented, on his level, fighters, but now we are to expect domination against some of the best 170 pounders on the planet? It is one thing to run the table against fighters you are supposed to, but how will Askren react when pitted against equal overall talent, if not superior? 

Johnson’s entrance into One FC seems like a fairy tale ending for a man slighted by his former employers. But for Askren, this may end up being the nightmarish fate he has avoided for nearly a decade. For every Eddie Alvarez, a big name fighter that enters the UFC and succeeds, far too many forget the Hector Lombard’s, the Mirko Crocop’s, the Will Brook’s, etc, of the world. Even with a world title win, Alvarez left the UFC with a record of 4-3-1 NC, and he entered the UFC at the peak of his game, defeating the likes of Michael Chandler, Aoki, and Patricky Friere prior to his debut in the Octagon. 

It almost seems like a lose/lose for Askren at this point. For the hype his name carries with some, defeating the upper echelon of the division is almost expected, but what happens when, or if, he stumbles? Like Johnson, Askren has never shown the signs of being a major draw for fans, and with a style even UFC President Dana White has spoken out against, Askren may need instant success to validate this move. 

Even the one saving grace match people seem eager to witness, Askren vs. Georges St. Pierre, carries less meaning than it would have at the height of GSPs’ career. No, Askren almost needs to capture gold in the UFC, but with current Roufusport, and University of Missouri, teammate Tyron Woodley holding the title, Askren’s path is blocked at the moment. 

Obviously, Woodley could lose his title, setting up Askren for a quick shot, and possibly defeating Covington for the title would be good business for the UFC. But thats the great thing about looking ahead, it is very simple to take the fast road and ignore the possible road blocks. But in a sport such as MMA, and in a promotion such as the UFC, road blocks surround every road. 

But if “what if’s” are your cup of tea, how about this?

White allowed Johnson to leave as the Flyweight division isn’t cutting the mustard anymore, brings in Askren for a basically sink or swim experience, making his time in the UFC as difficult as possible. If Askren fails, White’s smug smirk re-appears, in an “I told you so” moment, or if Askren succeeds, White will accept any praise he can garner for bringing in a fighter like Askren. 

Johnson’s move seems fairly straight forward, so it all comes down to what Askren can, or will be willing to do, to make this something truly historic, or just another blip in the MMA history books.

One thing is for sure though, if you have yet to follow Askren on Twitter (@BenAskren), get on this immediately. This will be the one aspect of this entire situation that everyone will win with:

 

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Jasyn Zangari

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