Earlier this week, a blockbuster trade between the UFC and ONE Championship was reported. Headed to ONE would be former UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson, while in exchange the UFC would receive former ONE and Bellator welterweight champion Ben Askren. It’s arguably the first such “trade” in MMA history (it’s actually two fighters being released, but still) and it’s very exciting as we’ve never seen anything like this in the sport before.
In the major, mainstream sports leagues such as the NBA, NFL, NHL and MLB, trades happen all the time, and trades are something that get fans really invested and intrigued. But trades aren’t supposed to be something that happens in MMA. Until now, that is. The “trade” of Johnson for Askren opens up so many possibilities in this sport. It’s going to be a game changer, and it’s the perfect first trade as it seems like a very fair swap for all parties.
For the fighters, this trade is a great move for both of them. In Johnson’s case, it’s clear that he and the UFC were no longer seeing eye-to-eye. Johnson recently dropped the flyweight belt to Henry Cejudo at UFC 227 and didn’t seem to be in any rush to fight for it again. The UFC has tried for the last six years to make the flyweight division interesting to fans and to try and promote Johnson, but for whatever reason he just never became a star despite setting numerous records. Johnson is a great fighter, but the 125ers never appealed to the average MMA fan in North America, and Johnson is better off fighting for ONE in Asia, where smaller fighters are more respected and appreciated.
In Askren’s case, he actually retired last year from MMA, but he’ll be coming back to fight for the UFC and it’s a great move for him. With an 18-0, 1 NC record in MMA, Askren is one of the most impressive undefeated fighters to have never competed in the UFC. Hardcore fans have wanted to see him fight in the Octagon for years, because many believe he can give the top welterweights like Georges St-Pierre, Tyron Woodley, and Colby Covington problems. Not only is he a tremendously-effective top-heavy wrestler in the vein of Khabib Nurmagomedov, but Askren is also fantastic on the mic. He knows how to talk a big game and back it up, and he makes a wonderful addition to the UFC welterweight roster.
For ONE, getting Johnson is a significant coup as he’s still one of the greatest pound-for-pound fighters in the world. ONE will love having a fighter like Johnson in the fold, someone who the promotion can market as the best fighter in the world, and someone who the promotion can make their poster boy. For the UFC, getting Askren gives the promotion a potential star, someone who could sell pay-per-views down the road if he catches on with the fans. Both organizations are surely very happy with the swap as they each essentially gave up an asset they weren’t going to use in exchange for an asset that has a lot of potential. It’s a very fair trade on paper.
And for the fans, it’s a great move as both Johnson and Askren should be happier and more motivated fighting in their new organizations. As good as Johnson is, it became obvious he was getting tired of fighting in the UFC and always being ragged on for his lack of star power. For Askren, he’s a great fighter who was wasting away the prime years of his career on the couch as he had no plans fighting the sub-par welterweights ONE was throwing at him. Now in their new organizations, both Askren and Johnson have a lot to prove and I’m excited to see what both guys do in the UFC and ONE, respectively.
Oftentimes in sports, we look to see who won a trade, but in the case of the Johnson for Askren swap, this looks like a true win-win trade where everyone is happy. We still have to wait and see how both men perform in their new digs, but as of right now both guys should be very excited for their new career opportunities. The fans now get to see two of the best fighters in the world get paid more money to fight for organizations that actually want them, and that should make for two fighters who want to put on great fights. And the organizations should both be happy as they potentially have fighters who could become superstars for each company. This is a very fair trade, one that should make all parties happy, and the historical significance of it cannot be understated. This could be the start of a new era in MMA, and it’s a very exciting time to be a part of the sport.
Do you think this is a fair trade?