Kenny Rice used the finesse of a meat cleaver when he shut the conversation down on Ben Askren yesterday on Inside MMA. Newly crowned One FC Welterweight Champion and former Bellator Welterweight Champion, Ben Askren was invited for an interview on Inside MMA to discuss his recent victory and potential plans to enter the UFC. The conversation went quickly awry when Kenny Rice clearly didn’t like or feel comfortable with what Askren had to say about Dana White or the UFC in general.
Putting things into perspective. George St. Pierre’s unexpected retirement from the sport, while still retaining the welterweight championship title put the UFC in an awkward spot. A controversial decision left St. Pierre with a title that many believed he did not deserve after the impressive performance that Johnny Hendricks gave during his bout against St. Pierre. White was so enraged with the outcome he took to the podium at the UFC 167 post fight press conference to say:
“Does anyone here think Johny Hendricks didn’t win that fight? Did you see George getting smashed in the first round? It’s about damage. This is a fight. it’s about whoever inflicts the most damage. He got hurt, he got wobbled, he got dropped. I’m blown away that Georges St. Pierre won that fight.”
“And listen, I’m the promoter, he’s the biggest pay-per-view star on the fucking planet for me. And I still don’t think he won that fight. I want what’s fair and that wasn’t fair.. I think the NSAC is attrocious. I think the governor needs to step in…immediately…before these guys destroy this sport like they did boxing.”
“The alternatives are is the Governor needs to step in and fix the incompetence that is happening in the State of Nevada that used to be the best commission in the world. It’s absolute 100% incompetence and it needs to stop. I’m fucking scared to come back here and do fights. I’m afraid of this state.”
While many fans and media agreed with White on this matter we did our own analysis (which you can read here) of the event to get clarity. The breakdown revealed that purely from a point-by-point perspective St. Pierre won the fight. If anything the judges were so dispassionate about the event, that their purely technical scoring didn’t take into account the “appearance” of the fight. But as we’ve seen many times before, just because someone is bruised or bleeding, it doesn’t mean they’ve lost.
There’s been some speculation about the reasoning behind White coming out so blatantly attacking the NSAC for that event while not critiquing close decisions like that of the Jon Jones vs Gustaffson bout. Some have even claimed that there was prior knowledge of St. Pierre’s impending retirement and that the promotion would be left in an awkward position without a clear transition of championship status to a new fighter. Regardless of whether those allegations are true or not, the fact that there is disagreement between a commission’s ruling and the opinion of the promoter is a sign that roles and responsibilities are appropriately separated. This is a good thing as it does imply a lack of collusion and a degree of impartiality.
However the matter of St. Pierre’s retirement is one that is closely related to Ben Askren and his current opinion of the UFC and it’s management. Prior to UFC 167, Askren had been vying for a shot at Georges St. Pierre. He wanted to prove that he was the best welterweight in the world. St. Pierre even agreed to fight him any time the UFC permits it. Dana White, at the time, was spending a good deal of effort trading blows with Bjorn Rebney (former C.E.O. of Bellator MMA) on how poor their roster of fighters was in comparison to the UFC. However, there were two nagging pressure points that complicated the argument. Eddie Alvarez had shown extreme interest in going to the UFC once his Bellator fight contract expired. He was a talented prospect for the UFC and there appeared to be mutual interest at the time.
Knowing this Bjorn Rebney opposed his attempt to leave the promotion by tapping into a matching clause in the fight contract that Alvarez initially signed. Rebney insisted they could match anything the UFC would offer and so their revised offer should be sufficient. Alvarez disagreed instead opting for a long and arduous public and legal battle with the promotion. They eventually resolved their differences (out of court) and Alvarez continued to fight, until Scott Coker took over. More on that later. . .
As was mentioned there were two pressure points for the argument of who can recruit the best talent in the world. Alvarez and Askren. Askren was (and still is) undefeated. He was the reigning welterweight champion at Bellator and he wanted to prove he could beat anyone. For a short time there was even discussion about a cross promotional bout, which Rebney was not entirely opposed to, but Dana White was. Eventually it became clear that Askren would only be happy if he were allowed to pursue an opportunity to join the UFC ranks and Rebney, having learned something from the altercation with Alvarez changed his tune when Askren wanted to have a shot at the UFC’s 170 pound strap.
Askren was released from his contract with no contest from Bellator and upon attempting to get signed into the UFC. Dana White used the opportunity to smear more dirt in the face of Bellator by calling out the organization at a UFC 167 press conference that took just days before the event:
“This doesn’t change anything. I have no interest. I’m sure [WSOF] will pick him up. He’s [Bellator’s] champion and they don’t want him. What does that say? What does that mean? I don’t even care about those guys whatsoever. I feel sorry for the kids that fight there. I truly feel sorry for the kids that have to be stuck in that sh**hole. And the fact you would just give away a guy who has gone undefeated for you just shows the kind of people you are. It just shows what kind of business you do.”
He went on to say:
“As far as the kid and what kind of level he’s on, he barely beat Jay Hieron. He’s got some work to do and he can fight in another organization and work his way up.”
Once news broke that Askren had signed a deal with One FC Dana White spoke to MMAFighting about the prospect of ever signing Ben Askren:
“First of all, we didn’t ask for that meeting, he asked for that meeting. There was never any, ‘Let’s meet with Ben Askren.’ Ben Askren wanted that meeting. This is a business and a sport where, you saw the whole ‘Rampage’ thing, how that went down. We bring in the best guys in the world, they compete, they win world titles they do whatever; but at the end of the day, this is still a business. And you want to be in business with guys that want to be in business with you, guys that are happy. I can just tell from the comments that were made that Ben Aksren isn’t one of those kind of guys. He’s not a guy, I’m hearing just stupidness like that the reason he went to ONE FC is because he heard that I wanted him to go to World Series of Fighting. I don’t give a fuck where he goes. He can go fight in A.B.C. on fucking Pluto, for all I care. I wanted him to go to World Series of Fighting? I don’t give shit where the guy goes, personally. But, there is competition at World Series of Fighting. There was no competition at Bellator, I didn’t even know ONE FC was still in business. And I’m not taking a shot at these guys (ONE FC) I have nothing against them, I didn’t even know they still existed. I have nothing to do with World Series of Fighting, they have competition there. There’s actually competition where the guy, it sounds to me like this guy wants to walk in somewhere, make a shitload of money, and, I don’t know, he’s just not my kind of guy.”
For the sake of providing perspective, it should be noted that few executives at any company accept meetings “just because”. If there is no interest, they simply don’t meet with you. It’s more likely there was interest, but for what ever reason, a mutual agreement could not be reached between both parties (UFC and Askren).
So, fast forward less than a year later. Askren won the ONE FC welterweight title and just later that weekend White had this to say about him at a UFC 177 post fight press conference:
“I think if he keeps winning, he could get a shot over here. Listen, Ben Askren said a lot of stupid sh-t when he left, but I don’t care about stuff like that, I could care less about any of that. We’ll see how the kid fights, what he keeps doing, and we’ll go from there. Contrary to popular belief – well, no, I do hold grudges if you’re a real idiot. Yeah, I’ll hold a grudge until the day I drop dead. But with fighters, I don’t really do that with fighters. These guys are built differently than everybody. They’re tough, man, and this is what they do for a living, and they’re going to say stuff like that. If Tito (Ortiz) could come back to the UFC, anybody can come in here. Believe me, because there’s nobody on earth I hated more than Tito. And Tito came back. You don’t have to like them to do business with them. So we’ll see.”
That is most certainly true. You don’t have to like someone to do business with them, but you do need to trust them. This is likely where the misalignment resides. If White really is warming up to the idea of signing Askren, he will have to make an attempt to gain his confidence. Especially now that he has two potential homes to fight in that don’t have the letters U F C in them.
As for Kenny Rice. . . It’s very likely that most people will agree, as a member of the press, you owe it to your audience to provide them with an honest accounting of events. If you agree to have someone on your program for an interview, you shouldn’t cut them off mid sentence as it gives an impression of bias. Without belaboring the topic, there’s a number of ways that interview could have been handled better.