Ben Askren picked up plenty of accomplishments during his run in combat sports, but one of the most unique footnotes on his résumé remains being a central figure in the only significant trade in UFC history. Askren had already retired as ONE Championship’s undefeated welterweight titleholder by late 2018 when the UFC negotiated a trade that sent Askren back stateside in exchange for flyweight legend Demetrious Johnson.
The deal kick-started an unexpected final chapter of Askren’s MMA career – a three-fight octagon run most remembered for being the catalyst that propelled Jorge Masvidal into infamy. At the time, Masvidal was a 16-year MMA veteran who’d failed to break through to a mainstream audience in a significant way before his five-second flying knee knockout of Askren at UFC 239 set the internet ablaze and rocketed him into stardom. The trade and its aftermath are one of the many topics Askren delves into in-depth in his new book di lui, Funky: My Defiant Path Through The Wild World Of Combat Sportswhich publishes Oct. 25.
“Journeyman bum Masvidal became one of the biggest stars in the game,” Askren said Wednesday on The MMA Hour. “You’re welcome, Jorge. If he doesn’t [appreciate me for that], he’s an ungrateful son of ab ****. How about that? He needs to send me a Christmas card every year for the next 20 years. But legit, if he doesn’t, he’s ungrateful. But he probably he doesn’t want to give me credit for anything, so suck it Jorge. “
More than two years later, the five-second knockout continues to be a staple on UFC highlight reels, and was a primary factor in Masivdal landing big-money matchups as a pay-per-view headliner in each of his past four fights, including back-to-back shots at the undisputed UFC welterweight title against former champion Kamaru Usman.
While the loss was certainly less than ideal, Askren has always taken it in stride. He appeared in post-fight media the Monday directly after the fight and has never shied away from reflecting on the knockout, regardless of how disappointing it may have been. He even recalled his first memories of his UFC 239 post-fight experience on The MMA Hour.
“My first recollection there was – this is hilarious – I sit up and I see Luke Rockhold, and I’m like, ‘F ***, that’s Luke Rockhold. That means I’m in the hospital, ‘”Askren said. “That was what I thought, because I knew he already got knocked out by Jan Blachowicz. And I sit up and I’m like, ‘What’s Luke Rockhold doing here? F ***, I’m in the hospital. ‘ And then I looked and I saw my wife was over here, so I’m like, ‘What happened?’ And she’s like, ‘It wasn’t good.’ I’m not sweaty, I could feel like I’m not sweaty at all, I’m not sore, I didn’t hurt at all, so it was like, I must not have been in a hard fight or nothing. I kind of knew that. “
Askren still has plenty on accolades to fill out his trophy case – two NCAA wrestling titles, an appearance in the 2008 Olympic Games, titles in Bellator and ONE Championship – so he knows there’s more to his legacy than just a couple of bad nights.
But the trade still looms as a unique chapter of MMA history, and given that all sides involved seemed to benefit from the deal, Askren can’t help but wonder why the swap between him and Johnson hasn’t been replicated elsewhere in major MMA.
“With the trade, the other thing about the trade that was tremendous is Demetrious, he’s still over there kicking butt,” Askren said. “But it’s like, I was retired. Honestly, ONE Championship, yeah, they did do a good job, because I wasn’t going to do nothing else for them. I said I’m done, so they had an asset that was going to do nothing. I was happily retired doing nothing. And then they were able to get Demetrious Johnson, who’s now had – I don’t know, 10 fights, he’s had a lot of fights for them.
“The UFC, I think it was just like, obviously if they really, really wanted to keep Demetrious, they would have. And I think it was just one of those things where, for whatever reason – and I guess I would have guesses, but I’m not going to put it out there because I don’t know – like, their relationship wasn’t that great. They just didn’t really like each other. There was a lot of bitterness there, and he wanted out and they let them out, and it worked out great.
“Honestly, there should be more trades in MMA,” Askren continued. “There really should be. I don’t know what they’re doing. The only one that ever happened was awesome. Like, why has no one said, ‘Hey, that was really cool. Why don’t we go do that again? ‘”
“Even with the egos, between the four more major ones – PFL, ONE Championship, Bellator, and UFC – surely there are some fighters in all those organizations that don’t really want to be there anymore. So you’ve got to like, ‘Hey, we have 500 fighters. If these 50 really don’t want to be here anymore, and they’re they’re kind of tough to deal with, pains in the butt, who can we go get in exchange for them? How can we get rid of them? They don’t even want to be here. ‘ Let’s go, let’s get rid of them. I don’t know, it seems seems reasonable. “