Through all the talk, all the conjecture, all the times he's seen his name in the news during his contract free agency period, Ben Askren has held firm to his beliefs.
"I'm not willing to compromise my goals for monetary value," the unbeaten former Bellator welterweight champion said on Monday's edition of The MMA Hour.
Askren's name was back in the news during a tumultuous Thursday, when first, Bellator announced he was free and clear of contractual matching rights; then UFC president Dana White said he wasn't interested in the 12-0 fighter.
While Askren has developed a reputation for coming off brash on Twitter, he was calm and level-headed while describing his take on the situation.
First, Askren says he has nothing against Bellator, his former employer.
"It was something I was working on with Bjorn for awhile," Askren said. "Obviously, it's been nearly three and a half months since my last fight, and I was getting to the end of my exclusive period with Bellator. Bjorn made me a couple offers, and they weren't bad offers and Bellator isn't a bad company, but my main reason why I got into the sport of mixed martial arts was to be number one in the world. What I kept telling Bjorn was, hey, I'm no 6 in the world, I want to fight numbers 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 right now. All those people are the UFC and that is only place to accomplish that. So that was the point we kept going back and forth on. He and I pretty much said, there's no use in keeping matching rights and everything else if thats what you want you want to do. He was gracious enough to respect my wishes to want to fight the best in the world."
As for White's comments, Askren says it's all business and will take a wait-and-see approach.
"I don't take it all personally, it's business," Askren said. Later, he added, "My management is going to be hopefully go to Vegas meet with Lorenzo and Dana this week. Once that happens I'll have better idea where they actually stand."
The one point Askren did challenge White on, however, was White's assertion that the fact Askren squeaked out a win over Jay Hieron was proof Askren wasn't ready for the UFC.
"After I beat Jay Hieron, they signed Jay Hieron, so clearly Jay Hieron was good enough to be in the UFC," Askren said. "So surely someone who could beat him belongs. Anthony Lapsley, who Jay Hieron choked out in the first round in Bellator, was in the UFC last weekend. So there's a few flaws with that."
Askren also got an offer from World Series of Fighting. While he termed the offer "fairly generous," he doesn't sound interested in his potential WSOF matchups.
"The champion of World Series of Fighting [Steve Carl] is a guy who could never make the Bellator tournament final," Askren said. "What's the challenge if I go and fight there? If I'm going to fight guys below me, I would have stayed in Bellator and took the money they were offering."
As for why things have played out the way they have, Askren feels the acrimonious dispute between Bellator, the UFC, and Eddie Alvarez over Alvarez's contract offer, which ended up with dueling court cases before Alvarez settled with Bellator, played a role in Askren's current unemployed status.
"I think a lot of the bad blood stems from the the Eddie situation," Askren said. "It did get pretty ugly there, a lot of things that happened with UFC and Bellator and lawsuit and everything else. Maybe it's wariness from that or something."
Later, Askren added. "I'm definitely a pawn in the whole game, what Bellator and UFC's motivations are, I don't know exactly what their plans are. I'm a pawn in some sense between the two organizations, because they clearly don't like each other, and they want to hurt each other in any way they can. I think in the long run, everything will work out.
Askren is willing to admit that his blunt demeanor might not have helped him in the course of his contract negotiations. But he's also not going to change who he is.
"I'm just a straightforward kind of dude. I'm not going to lie, I'm not going to tell you something I don't really believe. I'm not hugely monetarily motivated, ... that being said, I always have been clear with my motivations, and what I want to do. I don't try to hide my feelings or what I think. I want to beat the number 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1 guys and think I can.".