In the past two weeks, Ben Askren has called out nearly every welterweight on the UFC roster.
Askren (18-0) signed with the UFC last month, and the promotion had no shortage of options when it came to booking his first fight. It ultimately chose to pair him with former champion Robbie Lawler at UFC 233 on Jan. 26 in Anaheim, California.
“He’s probably the guy in the top five with the best opportunity to beat me,” Askren told ESPN. “He has pretty good wrestling and he’s obviously a heavy striker. If you want someone to beat me, that’s probably the best you’ll find.”
When asked why he thinks the UFC wants him to see him lose his long-awaited Octagon debut, Askren laughed.
“Come on, man,” he said. “It’s obvious. They don’t want me to win. [UFC president Dana White] will deny it, but he should just come out and say, ‘I don’t like Ben Askren. I think he’s a jackass and I want to see him get beat up.’
“That’d be cool, and I would take no offense to that whatsoever.”
Askren, who came to the UFC in a deal that sent longtime flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson to ONE Championship, has been at odds with White in the past, specifically in 2013 when he left Bellator, where he was champion, and wanted to sign with the UFC as a free agent.
The former NCAA Division I wrestling champion acknowledged he is a little disappointed his first UFC fight will be against Lawler (28-12), for whom he has a lot of respect. Askren is known for his ability to talk trash, which he won’t do with Lawler.
“There are a bunch of guys I genuinely dislike that I could have fought,” Askren said. “I actually kinda like Robbie Lawler. I would have preferred someone I don’t like, because it would have been so much more fun.
“I think it will be all right, though. It may take away my ability to talk trash, because it would be fake. But Robbie is a former UFC champion, he’s really tough. I don’t feel the UFC did it wrong at all. I feel it’s a good matchup on a good card, the first pay-per-view in the ESPN era, if you will. I was really happy to be put on this card.”
Askren has made it clear he will not fight his teammate Tyron Woodley, the UFC welterweight champion, which begs the question: What fight would he aim for next, should he defeat Lawler in January?
“I’m calling out Colby [Covington],” Askren said. “After I beat up Robbie, Colby is getting called out in 10 seconds. Why? Because I don’t like him. He’s a bum, and I want to beat him up. Hopefully Tyron will be done with him by then.
“And if I beat up two guys, one of whom was a former UFC champion in Robbie, and one of whom was an interim champion in Colby, I think I’ll give myself the standing to call out Khabib [Nurmagomedov] or Georges St-Pierre. Both of those guys I’d fight right now, but it’s not quite realistic yet. When I can call those guys out, I absolutely will.”