Ben Askren isn’t buying what Jon Jones is selling.
Jones made himself a vocal presence on social media earlier this week following Francis Ngannou’s landmark signing with PFL, scoffing at lineal UFC heavyweight champion’s decision and questioning how Ngannou could call himself “The Baddest Man on the Planet.”
Jones, of course, captured the UFC title in Ngannou’s stead, making his long-awaited move up to heavyweight once Ngannou made history by exiting the organization as champion. But that heavyweight debut came after a three-year layoff — and Ngannou spent much of those three years angling for a fight with Jones. And therein lies the issue for Askren.
“To me it was simple, and why I thought, ‘Wow, this is really weird, and almost hypocritical,’ is Jon chose to be inactive for three years,” Askren said on Daniel Cormier’s YouTube channel. “He chose not to fight. I don’t care what Jon does, right? He chose not to fight. Three years. Three years, he chooses not to fight. Francis is in the UFC pretty much the entirety of that three years, and we’ve seen other people go up weight classes. ‘Stylebender’ [Israel Adesanya] did it and lost to Jan [Blachowicz] and went back to 185, so we’ve seen other people do it. So he had plenty of opportunity to fight Francis Ngannou.
“So now if Francis Ngannou wants to say, ‘I’m the baddest man on the planet,’ I think he should be able to. Now, can Jon argue he is also? Sure. But Jon can’t say, ‘You can’t do it,’ because Jon didn’t fight him for three years.”
Askren has a point. The UFC had Jones vs. Ngannou on its radar as far back as 2020, however the majority of the initial hurdles in booking it stemmed from Jones’ side, dating back to Dana White’s assertion that Jones wanted Deontay Wilder money for the bout.
Ngannou ultimately fought three times during Jones’ layoff, capturing the heavyweight title with a brutal knockout of Stipe Miocic then defending against Ciryl Gane despite competing on a torn ACL and MCL, before his dispute with the UFC came to a head.
“Jon has a good argument with it, but Francis went out winning six in a row,” Askren said. “He beat Curtis Blaydes, Cain [Velasquez], JDS [Junior dos Santos], [Jairzinho] Rozenstruik, Miocic, and Gane his last six fights in the UFC, of which Jon was able to be fighting during that time. He chose not to, he chose not to be active. That’s his choice. I don’t care, right? But Jon could’ve, at any point — I think his last fight was February 2020 — at any point during the next two-and-a-half to three years, he could’ve said, ‘Francis, I want a piece of you. You’re in the UFC, I’m in the UFC, let’s do it right now.’ And he chose not to. So now Francis leaves as the champion winning six in a row — I think he can claim that title.”
“Listen, I think Jon can say, ‘I’m the guy also.’ I don’t see a problem with that,” Askren added. “But he can’t say, ‘Hey dummy, you’re clearly not the guy.’ That’s what he can’t say.”
Askren added that he would likely pick Jones to win if the two ever fought, but ultimately that’s just speculation. For now, at least in the former ONE Championship and Bellator champ’s eyes, Ngannou has as much of a right to call himself the No. 1 heavyweight in the world as Jones does, especially considering Ngannou’s résumé in the division.
“I think Jon likely is the best guy,” Askren said. “But my point of contention is, Jon was inactive while Francis was in the UFC and the champion, and Jon could have said, ‘Let’s fight, because I want to prove I am, without a shadow of a doubt, the baddest dude,’ and it didn’t happen. So now Francis gets to leave, they never fought, and if he wants to say it for a little while, he can say it. I’m not mad at him.”