Duke Roufus appeared on Monday’s edition of The MMA Hour, and said Bellator’s Ben Askren needs to compete with the best in the world -- that "he’s one of those strange people need that carrot on a stick."
The thing is, right now Askren himself appears to be the dangling carrot.
Last week Bellator’s CEO Bjorn Rebney tried tossed out an idea in which Bellator would waive any signing rights on its reigning welterweight champion, if the UFC would stick Askren in an automatic title fight against Georges St-Pierre (or Johny Hendricks, as the case may be). Askren told ESPN that Bjorn called him and said, "How about I let you go for free if you fight Georges St-Pierre?"
Though this might feel like posturing to some (perhaps asinine to others), it did manage to kick up a lot of conversation. The biggest question on everybody’s mind was: What’s Rebney up to? Some construed the offer as a threat, or as a sort of gamesmanship. Others as an ultimatum, that should the UFC fail to adhere to the offer, Bellator would simply re-sign the "restricted" free agent. Maybe, in the purest sense, Rebney just wants to see Askren fight GSP, as a sort of "our guy versus your guy" to determine who’s the best in the world?
Whichever way you slice it, the offer was (and is) a little weird.
Askren’s coach Roufus was candid about his thoughts on the offer, referring to Askren as a pawn in this theoretical transaction. He also had logical concerns, like where would the UFC get the B-roll of Askren to promote the fight?
"I feel like at times [Askren]’s being used as a pawn from one promotion to the other, personally," Roufus said. "I mean, if [Bellator] doesn’t want him, let him go. I would love to see that fight happen, for sure. But Georges is talking about retiring, for one. Two, in order to make a title fight at welterweight in the UFC, they need footage to promote Ben, which they don’t have.
"Bjorn’s got to know it’s a very hard asking for Dana, ‘let’s do this,’" he said. "Realistically you need footage and a contender fight. Where do we get the footage of Ben Askren in the background to promote this? Because Bellator owns this, and another TV company owns this. There’s a lot of things behind the scenes that just couldn’t happen. It’s weird, because [my] fighters are like my children. A week ago, Ben was down. He gets this told to him, he’s happier than a kid on Christmas."
Though there would appear to be logistical problems with Rebney’s offer, the concept of having a fighter fresh from Bellator get an immediate title shot is not wholly unprecedented. Bellator’s last big free agent, Eddie Alvarez, was to be granted an immediate title shot when he signed a contract with the UFC last year. That was before Bellator, who had first right of refusal, ended up matching the offer (which became a battle between Alvarez, Rebney, lawyers and contractual language for the next several months).
Asked if he’d like to see Askren fighting in the UFC, Roufus said it’s a no-brainer.
"Who doesn’t?" he said. "That’s the thing -- I don’t want to be in the CFL. No, I want to be in the NFL. No disrespect to Bellator, they put out a great product, but the UFC with the fighters, nobody wants to be the NABC champion, they want WBC boxing champion. It just is what it is. I mean, there’s going to be No. 1."