Did the UFC Complete the Worst Trade in Sports History?
When you think about trades in sports, it's almost instinct to gravitate toward the four major North American sports or Soccer. Very rarely do you think of big time trades in sports and link it to any sort of MMA. After further review, you may want to start including the UFC when you think of the worst trade in sports history.
On October 27, 2018 it was made official that the UFC would be sending Demetrious "Mighty Mouse" Johnson to ONE in exchange for Ben Askren. At the time, it seemed like the move for Askren (a welterweight fighter) was made to start the phase out of the flyweight division. The American market for fighters under 120 lbs. has always been weaker and it made sense to cut it as strictly a business decision.
As time went on it became clear that they weren't thinking in that sense. In fact, since the departure of Johnson, fellow flyweight fighter Henry Cejudo has stormed through his division and currently sits at number three among the pound for pound fighters in the company. The division is still going strong with no signs of being cut.
Before Cejudo, the man who basically ran that division, "Mighty Mouse" Johnson, was one of the best pound for pound fighters of all time. He currently sits ranked at number six all time by mmalife.com among pound for pound best fighters. He was the number one pound for pound guy on the roster for the majority of his tenure with the UFC, and looked like a guaranteed win in every fight he took. He went on a 13 fight win streak over the course of a six year period in the UFC, before losing his final fight with the company in controversial fashion.
Needless to say, Mighty Mouse brought it when it came to fighting in the ring. The problem he and the UFC had, was that he wasn't one of the big names pushed by the UFC given his size and personality. As a smaller man, who didn't ever say the wrong thing, and never gave you an outlandish quote, it was really hard for the UFC to market the then 32 year old. They needed a flashier star with a bit of a legend behind him. Thus, the decision was made to bring in Askren.
Askren wasn't something to shake a stick at the time. When he was traded, Askren was 17-0 in his professional MMA career; a career that included championships in both Bellator and ONE. He was widely considered to be one of the best welterweight fighters on the planet, being compared to some of the sports best.
His career got off to a good start in the UFC as well. He defeated once UFC great Robbie Lawler with a bulldog choke just 3:20 into the first round of his first fight. Since then, things haven't looked great for Ben.
In his second career UFC fight, he was embarrassed by Jorge Masvidal with a flying knee just five seconds into the fight. It was a stark realization right then and there that maybe this guy can't quite hack it with the big boys in the UFC. That sentiment wasn't aided any in his fight against Demian Maia. He landed more strikes but was hit with more significant strikes by the older Maia. He was also just out-enduranced and couldn't hang on before being submitted in the middle of round three.
Two fights might not seem like a lot, but we're talking about a guy that was supposed to come in and dominate the way guys like Conor McGregor, Jon Jones and Khabib Nurmagomedov have. To make matters worse, in an appearance on Ariel Helwani's MMA Show on Monday, Askren discussed how he doesn't like to fight, and has considered retirement over the last few days. That's not something you want to hear about the prized return for one of your best fighters after just two bouts.
Mighty Mouse, meanwhile, has continued his domination since coming over to ONE. He is 3-0 with one submission and two unanimous decisions in his ONE career, taking all three bouts in the bantamweight division.
Maybe it's still too early to tell, maybe Askren turns it around and becomes a top tier guy. Maybe this is all being a little blown out of proportion because of how great Mighty Mouse was. Regardless of the future outcome, this one is going to be tough for Dana White to explain for a long time.