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Ben Askren defends controversial UFC 235 finish: ‘I saw the arm go limp’

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As far as Ben Askren is concerned, he took care of business at UFC 235.

The former Bellator and ONE welterweight champion made his long-awaited Octagon debut Saturday in Las Vegas, drawing one of the sport’s most feared knockout artists “Ruthless” Robbie Lawler. Askren almost became a statistic as he was slammed and barraged with punches in the opening minutes of the fight, only to come back and secure a bulldog choke that led to a controversial stoppage.

In the heat of the moment, referee Herb Dean ruled that Lawler had passed out. At the evening’s post-fight press conference, Nevada Athletic Commission executive director Bob Bennett spoke to the media and expressed his opinion that Lawler was “clearly out.”

And Askren? He has his own perspective on how things went down.

“I feel great. I went and did my job,” Askren said. “I watched the video, I saw the arm go limp, I know he said he was trying to relax himself, but I don’t know any conscious person that just goes... (mimes going limp). I mean, it just doesn’t happen.

“But that’s not my job and to what Mr. Bennett said, they tell you in the pre-fight room, ‘If I’m saying protect yourself, protect yourself, protect yourself, you have to give me something.’ And [Lawler] said he couldn’t hear me, but my arm’s here so there’s definitely nothing over that one ear.”

At first, it was Askren whose night looked like it would end miserably when the bell rung for his fight with Lawler. His first takedown attempt ended with Lawler stuffing him and then lifting him high into the air before nearly dropping Askren straight onto his head. Several follow-up punches on the ground appeared to land square, but Askren instinctively grabbed onto Lawler until he could recover.

Askren’s first priority was survival, so the thought of Dean ending the fight in Lawler’s favor didn’t cross his mind.

“I really wasn’t even thinking about that,” Askren said. “Actually, my initial entry was pretty beautiful. I hit the single leg to a drag, kind of almost took his back, and then where it went all wrong was he got his arm out the side and he’s really freaking strong and he went up and down really fast, I wasn’t able to reposition myself before the fall, so I fell on my head.

“And not only did I fall on my head, then he had my wrist trapped. So then he was unloading punches because my wrist was trapped, I couldn’t get it out to defend myself. It took me a few minutes to get that squared away and once I got it squared away I think I got — I didn’t watch this part, but I believe I got into some kind of half guard, popped up, put him against the cage and eventually got a takedown and then the choke.”

Given the controversy surrounding the ending, it’s only fair to discuss an immediate rematch. Lawler mentioned in his post-fight media session that he’s open to it and Askren was also told that UFC president Dana White is in favor of the idea. Told of White’s intentions, Askren was short.

“I pass,” he said.

Askren acknowledged there could be talks, but put forth the idea of him instead facing the winner of the Darren Till vs. Jorge Masvidal main event on March 16 in London instead. The plan is already for him to fly out there and get a closer look at the top-10 ranked fighters.

He already knows that he’s not getting a fight with Kamaru Usman, who defeated Askren’s close friend and teammate Tyron Woodley on Saturday to become the new UFC welterweight champion. Rumor has it that Colby Covington is slated to be Usman’s first challenger, so all Askren can do now is jockey for position in the crowded 170-pound title picture.

“I didn’t really want to fight [Lawler] in the first place,” Askren said. “I like Robbie Lawler a lot, what’s the point?

“Right now I’ve got a plane ticket to London. I heard they gave Colby Marty, that’s kind of annoying, nobody likes Colby, just kick him out of here, please. I thought he was getting traded or something. So I’m gonna go to London, Till vs. Masvidal, that’s like 3 versus 6, 3 versus 7, I think the winner of that’s probably gonna be top 3. And that’s who I’d like to fight.”