October 29, 2019

Let's Keep It Funky: The UFC Still Won the Ben Askren For Demetrious Johnson Trade

By Adam Martin

On October 27, 2018, the MMA world was shocked when the Ultimate Fighting Championships and ONE Championship completed the first-ever trade between promotions. The UFC sent former pound-for-pound kingpin and its longtime flyweight champ Demetrious Johnson to ONE for its longtime welterweight champion Ben Askren. It was a historic trade at the time, and now, a year later, it's a good time to start assessing the results.

As far as I'm concerned, the UFC won the trade. Even though Askren has struggled in the Octagon and hasn't truly lived up to the expectations of being a potential world champion in the UFC welterweight division, the trade has paid off for the UFC. In exchange for a fighter in Johnson who the promotion couldn't figure out how to promote, it received Askren, who has become a star for the UFC even though the results haven't been there.

In addition to his vaunted wrestling pedigree, we all knew Askren's mouth was one of his biggest assets. He's taken his trash-talk game to a whole other level since joining the UFC, rivaling fighters like Conor McGregor and Chael Sonnen. And even though Askren hasn't been very successful inside the Octagon, his ability to talk a big game outside of it has kept fans interested in his fights despite his wrestling-first fighting style.

And while Askren was known as just a grinding wrestler outside the UFC, his fights in the Octagon haven't really shown too much of that aspect of his game. In his UFC debut at UFC 235 against Robbie Lawler, Askren survived a vicious slam to come back and defeat Lawler via choke, albeit in controversial fashion. In his second fight, at UFC 239, he was on the wrong end of the infamous, historic five-second knockout by Jorge Masvidal. And this past weekend in his third UFC fight, Askren and Demian Maia put together a fun grappling fight that saw Maia win by third-round submission. Anyone who says Askren is boring is wrong. Win or lose, his three fights in the UFC have all been very exciting, and he deserves some of the credit for that.

In exchange for three great fights from Askren and his big mouth to boot, the UFC traded away Johnson, who has looked as good as advertised so far in ONE. He won the ONE Flyweight Grand Prix with three wins over the last six months, which he was expected to do. He was brought into ONE because the promotion believed its fanbase would appreciate his game more. That's true, it has. And Johnson has looked great. But the UFC doesn't miss him, because ultimately, the UFC machine just didn't have what it took to promote Johnson like it can Askren. Thus, trading Johnson for Askren was the right call.

It would be easy to say both sides won the trade. ONE Championship received a pound-for-pound great in Demetrious Johnson who is still at the top of his game for a fighter it couldn't promote properly or find compelling matchups for in Ben Askren. And the UFC received a fighter who promotes himself and brings a lot of excitement to the Octagon and outside of it. And for Askren, the UFC relinquished a fighter it couldn't draw with in Johnson. In mainstream sports, this would be called a win-win trade. But if I had to pick a winner, I believe it's the UFC. ONE may have received the superior talent, but the UFC was able to do more with the talent it did receive (and now even has a new PPV headliner in "BMF" Jorge Masvidal to show for it).
All the excitement that Askren has brought to the UFC has outweighed anything Johnson has done in ONE's flyweight division since the trade. So although Askren hasn't been as successful as Johnson since it went down, the UFC would still make that trade again, ten times out of ten.

UFC on ESPN+ 20
Demian Maia vs. Ben Askren: Demian Maia def. Ben Askren via submission (rear-naked choke) at 3:54 of Round 3.

UFC on ESPN+ 20: Maia vs. Askren took place October 26, 2019 at Singapore Indoor Stadium in Singapore.

Click HERE for more UFC on ESPN+ 20 Post-Fight Analysis


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