NEW YORK -- Duke Roufus is in a tough position. He coaches Ben Askren and also has a great relationship with UFC president Dana White. Askren and White don't seem to see eye-to-eye, a fact you can extrapolate just from reading Askren's Twitter timeline.
"I love both guys," Roufus said Monday at an Anthony Pettis media lunch to promote UFC 181. "I have so much respect for Dana, Lorenzo and Frank. I've told them so many times Roufusport wouldn't be around without them. I wouldn't be here without them."
The undefeated Askren is currently the ONE FC welterweight champion following his run as the Bellator MMA 170-pound titleholder. White famously said Askren had not done enough in Bellator to warrant a UFC contract. Askren has not been very complimentary of White on social media or in interviews.
The fact remains, though, that Askren is one of the best welterweight fighters in the world. And the UFC is home to the vast majority of elite MMA athletes. Will Askren and White ever mend fences enough to get a contract into place?
"I see it happening," Roufus said.
It's unclear when. Askren, 30, is still under contract with ONE FC. White seemed to warm up to the idea of one day having Askren fight in the UFC until Askren continued to not have very many nice things to say about White in the media. Askren bashed the UFC and White, calling the UFC "a monopoly-type situation," in an Inside MMA interview in September. White followed up with some barbs of his own.
"I thought Tito (Ortiz) was the dumbest human being I ever met," White said on UFC Tonight in September. "This guy (Askren) is an absolute moron. It's almost like, you know, he gets it. He's copying everything Tito does. Obviously you get lots of attention if you talk about the UFC and if you talk about how you don't like me or whatever it is, you obviously get lots of attention. He stole that. Tito oughta sue him for stealing that one."
One of the initial things standing in the way of Askren to the UFC when his contract with Bellator was up last year was Askren's fighting style. Askren is a former NCAA champion wrestler at the University of Missouri and one of the most dominant takedown and top-position artists in MMA. That doesn't always lead to the most exciting fights. But Askren has finished his two ONE FC opponents and seems to be improving all the time.
"He knows at this stage of his career become a world-class striker," Roufus said. "But you know what? He's going to become awesome at not getting hit. So he takes you down, the fight is over."
Pettis said that he would want nothing to do with Askren, his teammate, if he were to ever move down to lightweight where Pettis is the UFC champ.
"He would whoop my ass," Pettis said. "He holds me down and laughs at me [in training]."
Roufus calls Pettis and Askren the two most confident people he knows. Could Askren come in and be a star in the UFC welterweight division like Pettis is at 155? The coach wants it badly.
"Ben, he's a very proud guy," Roufus said. "I'm hoping and pray. I think [it would] just be for the greater good of the sport, what the UFC has always done."