An unprecedented deal was finalized Saturday which will bring an undefeated former world champion into the UFC while shipping one of the greatest pound-for-pound fighters in mixed martial arts history off to compete in Asia.
Former Bellator and ONE welterweight champion Ben Askren will be released from his ONE contract to sign with the UFC, while Demetrious Johnson will be released from his UFC contract in order to sign a deal with ONE. ESPN reported the news.
Askren (18-0, 1 NC) has found success everywhere he’s fought, winning the Bellator welterweight title in 2010 and leaving the company while still champion in 2014 to sign with ONE. Askren went 5-0 with a no-contest in ONE, where he held the welterweight belt until announcing his retirement last fall.
Johnson (27-3-1), meanwhile, is widely regarded as one of the best fighters in MMA history. The Seattle area native got as far as a shot at then-champion Dominick Cruz as an undersized bantamweight in 2011, then really came into his own when the UFC instituted a flyweight division. Johnson won a four-man tournament to claim the crown in 2012 and then went on to successfully defend the 125-pound title 11 consecutive times, breaking Anderson Silva’s venerated UFC record for most title defenses. Johnson lost the belt in a split decision to Henry Cejudo at UFC 227 in August.
According to the ESPN report, Johnson’s team hatched the plan to initiate the talent swap, as his coach Matt Hume doubles as ONE’s vice president of operations. Askren indicated his interest in the deal, and things proceeded from there.
Askren has wasted little time calling out much of the welterweight and lightweight divisions for fights. And while Johnson has been less outspoken, he did send out a tweet acknowledge his new home on Saturday: