In October of 2018, the UFC and popular Singapore-based MMA promotion ONE Championship completed a deal never seen before in the sport. One year later, the winner of that trade has never been more clear.
The completed agreement, unofficially a “trade” of sorts, sent Ben “Funky” Askren of ONE Championship to the UFC, while the UFC would send Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson in return. The details of the trade stated that each fighter would agree to be released from their current contract with the expectation of signing with the other promotion.
Win-Win on the Surface
The argument for each acquisition was obvious. Demetrious Johnson, arguably the greatest pound-for-pound fighter in history, was fighting in the unpopular flyweight division. Rumors had been circulating of the flyweight division dismantling, and with Johnson’s recent title loss, the UFC felt no need to keep him on the roster. ONE Championship would acquire his services as one of the best fighters in the world.
Askren, long thought to be at odds with UFC president Dana White, brought an undefeated record and a gift for trash talk to the promotion. Askren was a former Bellator and ONE Championship welterweight champion who had recently retired while still under contract with ONE. He would only agree to come out of retirement to fight in the UFC.
But Only ONE Won
Since the deal, Johnson has thrived by winning his first three fights under his new employer. His most recent win ended with a belt around his waist, as he won the ONE Championship Flyweight Grand Prix. Never the one for glitz and glamor, Johnson has appeared happier than ever in interviews. He can now focus on fighting without all of the additional promotion that comes with it.
Askren, on the other hand, has struggled in his two UFC fights. He began his journey at UFC 235, where he fought former welterweight champion Robbie Lawler in a fast paced, exciting fight ending in a controversial win. At the end of the fight, Askren placed Lawler in a bulldog choke near the cage. Upon seeing Lawler’s arm slowly lower to the canvas, referee Herb Dean called an end to the fight believing Lawler had fallen unconscious. Lawler immediately jumped to his feet and protested the stoppage.
Askren’s second appearance at UFC 239 was not so lucky. Five seconds is all it took for Jorge Masvidal to land a devastating jumping knee to Askren’s head that would make its rounds on social media for months to come. Not only did Askren receive the loss, he was on the losing end of the fastest knockout recorded in UFC history.
Additionally, Askren lost an exhibition wrestling match to Olympian Jordan Burroughs between those bouts. While the match did not affect his record, it was damaging to the popularity of a fighter whose career may hinge on just that.
Do or Die Time
Now comes possibly the biggest fight of Askren’s career. When “Funky” steps into the octagon at UFC Singapore this Saturday, he will stand opposite one of the best Brazilian jiu-jitsu competitors the game has seen in Demian Maia. While the UFC is gifting Askren a main event headliner, it would come as a surprise if they do not consider his release should he underperform. A spectacular performance by Askren is the minimum the UFC will need to justify the historic trade of which ONE Championship has been the clear victor.