Bellator MMA on Thursday released its welterweight champion, Ben Askren, from any further obligation to the promotion, leaving him a free agent.
The Bellator welterweight championship is now vacant until Douglas Lima faces the winner of the Season 9 welterweight tournament. Rick Hawn and Ron Keslar will square off in the tournament final at Bellator 109 on Nov. 22.
Bellator president Bjorn Rebney stated on Twitter that “it was clear it was a good time for both parties to move on.”
Askren completed the fight obligations on his Bellator contract when he scored a TKO stoppage of Andrey Koreshkov at Bellator 97 in July. He was still under a matching period that gave Askren the right to seek other offers, but also gave Bellator the option to retain him if they would match any offer he received.
The decision to release Askren, who maintains an unblemished 12-0 professional record, has been bandied about by Rebney for several months.
“I don’t think we’re going to make an offer (to retain Askren) at this point,” Rebney told ESPN.com in August. “So I don’t see any reason to make anybody sit out. If Ben’s going to go to the UFC, we should speed up that process so he can go fight.”
Rebney then pulled back, offering to allow Askren out of his contract immediately if the UFC would guarantee him an immediate title shot.
When that did not materialize, it appears that Rebney and company determined that it was time to release its welterweight champion, who has held the belt since defeating Lyman Good in October of 2010.
Rebeny has often been critical of Askren’s fighting style, which has traditionally been labeled “lay and pray” by fans and pundits.
Askren is a former Olympic wrestler that is proficient at taking his opponent down and grinding out a decision victory, which he did in the majority of his Bellator fights, although he has two TKO stoppages and one submission among his nine Bellator victories.
“I’ve said it many times, Ben’s a completely one-dimensional fighter who is utterly dominant in that dimension,” Rebney said in Thursday’s statement announcing Askren’s release.
“I had a number of discussions with Ben and it became clear it was time for both parties to move in different directions. We’ve relinquished any right to match here and Ben can sign with whoever he chooses to sign with. Ben’s been at Bellator since the start of his career, I respect him and what he’s accomplished and wish him the best wherever he goes.”
Rebeny and Bellator are sure to be criticized for allowing one of its champions, especially one that holds the promotion’s record for most successful title defenses at four, to walk away. Askren, however, appears to be quite pleased at his former employer’s decision.
He told MMAWeekly.com recently, “When I got into the sport, my goal was to be the best in the world, and in my mind, I’m not that far away from it. If I put my money on me and GSP (UFC champion Georges St-Pierre) fighting, I’m betting on myself. I might be the best fighter at 170 in the world right now.
“Obviously, I haven’t had the chance to prove that at this point in my career and, hopefully, at some point I’ll be able to.”
“I am now free to go to the UFC and beat whoever I want.”