The enmity between Ben Askren and the UFC is nothing new. It dates years back, all the way back to a bygone era of mixed martial arts. But considering Askren’s recent push to come out of retirement for a shot at Octagon legend Georges St-Pierre, it’s worth examining where exactly the contentious relationship between the two sides began.
And as far as Askren knows, the problems between he and the UFC first arose in the spring of 2012, when Askren — then Bellator’s undefeated welterweight champion — responded to UFC president Dana White’s claim that a year-round, random drug-testing program would be “impossible” for the UFC to implement. Upon seeing White’s words, Askren — a former Olympian intimately familiar with USADA — tweeted that White was telling a “bold faced lie.” Askren added that such a program would be “expensive” but “not impossible,” and that he was “just making a statement about a level playing field.”
The USOC random tests Olympic athletes in all sports. Dana saying testing his fighters would be impossible is a bold faced lie.— Ben Askren (@Benaskren) April 16, 2012
Not surprisingly, White was quick to respond.
Incensed, the UFC president tweeted out that Askren was “the most boring fighter in MMA history,” writing that “when ambien can’t sleep it takes Ben Askren” and noting that he “would rather watch flys f*ck” than watch Askren fight.
Three years after the tit-for-tat, the UFC partnered with USADA to implement the exact year-round, random drug-testing program Askren had referred to on Twitter.
So chalk that one up as a win for Askren, right?
As far as he can surmise, that fateful 2012 social media exchange with White was the beginning of a grudge that ultimately kept Askren forever out of the UFC.
“It was so obvious that Dana stood behind all these lame-ass excuses of, ‘He’s not experienced enough, he’s not good enough, he’s too boring, blah, blah, blah, blah.’ They were all lies. Every single one of them was a lie, because he didn’t want to tell the real story, and that’s because he’s a very petty man who has — he’s got $350 million and a gigantic ego, and he still has no confidence himself,” Askren said Monday on The MMA Hour.
“I told them that they could do USADA testing and he said no, then they did it a year later. He can’t put that little detail behind him, so because of that little detail where I made him look bad, he has held a grudge ever since then and he has withheld the fight that fans want to see. Fans want to see how I would’ve done in the UFC, and he hasn’t been able to put that together because of a tiny little petty grudge over someone calling him a name. And it wasn’t even a bad name. I called him a liar. He was lying. So it was, in fact, true, and he’s been holding that against since 2012. I mean, for God’s sake man, you’ve got $350 million dollars. Don’t you have anything better to do than hold a little bitter grudge? It’s pathetic.”
Askren’s dispute with White came to a head in 2013 when “Funky” departed Bellator as its undefeated champion and attempted to sign with the UFC.
On a recent episode of The Joe Rogan Experience, Askren claimed that UFC officials at the time told him, “‘You need to get rid of your matching clause and we will make an offer, but we will not make you an offer until that happens.’” So Askren secured a release from his Bellator contract with the help of former Bellator boss Bjorn Rebney, a move which rid him of his matching clause. But, Askren claimed, after doing so, UFC officials flip-flopped and declined interest in him, leaving him stuck in limbo without Bellator or the UFC as an option.
Askren said he ended up buying his own plane ticket to Las Vegas to personally meet with then-UFC executive Lorenzo Fertitta in order to remedy the situation. With White joining the meeting on speakerphone, Askren said the UFC ultimately offered him a Zuffa contract with a strange caveat: The deal would, in his words, “be confidential, and I would have to fight one fight for the World Series of Fighting.”
Askren said the agreement struck him as “bizarre,” but he was still willing to accept it. Then, six hours after the meeting ended, Askren said he received another phone call saying that the contract had been withdrawn. The UFC wasn’t interested after all. And Askren believes White was the driving factor behind everything.
“He is a bitter man, “Askren said Monday. “He’s got a very fragile ego, very thin skin. And again, when you’ve got that much money and you’ve done — listen, he’s accomplished a lot of things, that’s factual, I will not take that away from him.
“But to have skin so thin, it’s pathetic. It really is.”
Aside from his 2012 Twitter exchange with White, Askren believes there were likely a few other reasons that contributed to the UFC’s decision. He acknowledged that his grinding, wrestling-heavy style isn’t the most pleasing for some fans. He also believes the UFC was concerned about how a Bellator champion claiming Octagon gold could have elevated Bellator’s standing as a legitimate rival to the UFC.
“So there was a handful of reasons,” Askren said.
“Obviously my style is the not the most exciting. Usually it would not be a roadblock, but when you have these other things, I think that — there’s a lot of contributors, right? There’s never just one factor in something. There’s multiple factors. But I will go back, I think the beginning was me chipping at Dana’s fragile ego with the comment of calling him a liar. And in fact, he was lying.
“What I said on that tweet was, you can do USADA testing, you absolutely can. He said, no, you can’t. What he should’ve said was, ‘At this point in time, it’s cost prohibitive. We’re a business, we need to make money.’ Listen, that’s a great answer. That’s totally true. It’s expensive to do USADA testing.”
Over five years since the friction between Askren and the UFC first began, Fertitta is gone — he left the UFC after the promotion sold for more than $4 billion to entertainment giant WME-IMG — but White remains a key figurehead within the organization. And for all intents and purposes, White’s presence likely remains a major hurdle for Askren to overcome in his pursuit of a fight against St-Pierre.
Still, “Funky” believes it’s only a matter of time until the situation works itself out.
“Dana’s a dirtbag. I don’t talk to him. That’s a fact,” Askren said. “Listen, I have said that from the beginning. I have presented my argument.
“I laid out exactly how filthy he is, and it’s not just a little bit filthy, it’s all the way filthy. And I do not deal with people like that. I just don’t do it. So like I said, there’s a few pieces of these puzzles that have to come together, but you can bank on the fact that these pieces will come together in due time if you’re patient enough.”