Ben Askren‘s transition to the UFC might be a little funkier than he anticipated.
UFC President Dana White today said he’s not interested in signing the now-former Bellator welterweight champion despite his unrestricted free agency.
“No interest,” he today told MMAjunkie when asked about Askren. “Bellator doesn’t even have interest in him. He needs to get some wins and go from there. I feel bad for these kids (from Bellator).”
Askren (12-0) initially gave a “no comment” via text message when contacted just hours after an earlier interview with MMAjunkie about his release from Bellator, which came this morning.
Moments later, after digesting White’s latest comment, Askren wrote, “(Dana) said he was interested two months ago, nothing had changed. We will see what happens.”
White’s latest comments come three months after he said the UFC would talk to Askren, who ended his Bellator contract with a TKO win over Andrey Koreshkov and then entered a restricted free agency period. The UFC executive later railed at Bellator when its chairman and CEO, Bjorn Rebney, offered to unconditionally release Askren from his contract if he were to be granted an immediate shot at the UFC welterweight title.
“They’re playing f—ing games,” White told MMAjunkie.com. “I don’t care what they’re doing. It doesn’t matter to me.”
At one point, Askren, a two-time NCAA Division I national champion wrestler and 2008 Olympian, gave hints that he might hang up his gloves if caught in a protracted battle to become a free agent.
Despite previously expressing interest in the fighter, White has derided Askren as a boring fighter and questioned his ability to beat UFC fighters with the smothering, wrestling-centric style he’s used to dominate in Bellator.
Earlier today, Askren downplayed the seriousness of White’s previous criticisms.
“Dana’s a businessman, so I’m sure he sees the value that I can bring to the organization because they haven’t brought in a high-level 170-pounder in a while, so I think it would bring a lot of new and exciting matchups to the division,” Askren said.
The 29-year-old fighter also labeled himself the No. 6 170-pound fighter in the division and said he’d be happy with a fighter ranked higher than him. His ideal scenario, however, is to fight immediately for a title.
“But if they offer me someone else good, (Carlos) Condit, (Jake) Shields or whoever, I’m good with that,” he said. “Obviously, I don’t want to have to fight a couple of scrubs.”
Askren said his management company this morning sent paperwork to the UFC confirming his unconditional release, which cancels a matching period that followed the expiration of his contract.
The particulars of what led to the unconditional release from Bellator remain between Rebney and the fighter. Askren declined to discuss details of his negotiations with his former boss, saying only that Rebney’s offer “wasn’t the contract that fit me right, that I thought was fair.”
Askren commended Rebney for taking the necessary step so he may pursue his goal of being the No. 1 welterweight in the world. He admitted, however, to being surprised when he got his walking papers.
“I think it’s a situations where both sides win; they don’t have to waste time with a long, drawn-out negotiation with me, and they can get on and crown a new champion, and I can go my way and try to negotiate my own contract,” he said. “I think this is a good move for both parties.”
Asked whether a move to the UFC was in the back of his mind during talks with Bellator, he said, “It’s always in my mind that I want to be the No. 1 fighter in the world, and however I can accomplish that, I’ll accomplish that.”