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Ben Askren, the UFC’s most compelling new addition in years, wants to truly parallel the treatment the organization showered upon Ronda Rousey when she debuted nearly six years ago.
The unbeaten welterweight, acquired in an unprecedented trade between the UFC and ONE Championship in Japan for former record-reigning flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson last month, is hopeful his star power will convince the UFC to create a new 165-pound division that other fighters have clamored for.
“We saw how well that did, right? They have a lot of guys who’ll fight at 165. They needed a star for the division when they brought in Ronda, and now they’ve got one again,” Askren (18-0) told the Los Angeles Times on Saturday night while UFC 230 was underway at Madison Square Garden.
Askren isn’t interested in meeting the UFC’s 170-pound welterweight champion Tyron Woodley -- his training partner and close friend -- and he can’t make the lightweight limit of 155 pounds, he said.
Although UFC President Dana White has been cold to the idea of a 165-pound division, asking, “Why would they fight at 165?” the timing couldn’t be better after the organization announced last week that UFC 233 on Jan. 26 is coming to Anaheim’s Honda Center, home of the Ducks and the same venue where Rousey made her UFC debut in 2013.
“I don’t see why not. This is really simple,” Askren said. “Let’s go Anaheim! Let’s go Ducks!”
UFC on Tuesday announced that top-15 lightweights Paul Felder and James Vick will also fight on the Anaheim card as will lightweight Islam Makhachev, a training partner of lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, against Francisco Trinaldo.
White told ESPN.com Monday that while contracts aren’t signed, he intends to place Askren’s debut fight at Honda Center against former welterweight champion Robbie Lawler.
In particular, Askren said, he ultimately wants to fight UFC legend Georges St-Pierre and Woodley’s coming opponent Colby Covington.
“I’ve been frothing -- like in a cage -- for a really long time, and now I get the opportunity to get [UFC fighters] in real life,” Askren said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
He said he knows his talents project to title-caliber because “Tyron’s my training partner. I’ve trained with many high-level guys, with Anthony Pettis when he was champion.”
White said he’s highly intrigued by the Askren debut.
“I’m excited when we find people who believe they’re great.… It’s hard to go undefeated in this sport. I like bringing in people like him to see who they really are,” White said.
Beyond what he does in the octagon, Askren is a skilled talker who comes across as genuine and extremely confident – a polar opposite, he says, to the mouthy, scripted Covington, who visited President Trump with White earlier this year.
“Colby is intellectually deficient to memorize the material he’s giving. He’s the ultimate gimmick, an infringement artist. It’s terrible,” Askren said. “I write my own material and hit stuff on the fly too. I’m the producer, the director, everything. We can do a lot of fun things.”
Reason to believe
White has listened to Jon Jones after Jones’ positive cocaine test result. White has sat by Jones in court after the former light-heavyweight champion smashed his car into one driven by a pregnant woman, injuring her.
And White weathered Jones getting suspended out of the marquee UFC 200 main event the week it was to happen, with another positive performance-enhancing drug test transforming Jones’ 2017 victory over current two-division champion Daniel Cormier to a no-contest.
So now, as Jones returns from suspension again, White is standing by Jones once more, placing him in a Dec. 29 light-heavyweight UFC 232 title rematch in Las Vegas against Alexander Gustafsson – the belt being taken away from Cormier as he pursues a March heavyweight title defense against Brock Lesnar.
“I’ve believed in him every time … when people say to me, ‘Wow, this seems like,’ [he’s turned the corner for good], I’ve thought that every time. It’s still up to Jon,” White told The Times on Friday night in New York.
“Jon has an incredible opportunity right now to erase all the things of the past, to go out and win his title, defend it ‘X’ amount of times, maybe go up to heavyweight, and he will go down as the greatest ever if he can do all that.
“And then everyone can forget everything that happened in the past.”
Jones, 31, said all the right things at his Friday news conference with Gustafsson, admitting he still struggles to understand publicity as he spoke of the attention likable heavyweight title challenger Derrick Lewis received for taking off his fight shorts after a victory last month and stating that his privates were “hot.”
“If I would’ve said [mine] were hot, it wouldn’t have gone over the same way,” Jones said. “I’m confused about PR. It’s not my thing.”
White quickly interrupted to add, “I would’ve preferred, ‘My [privates] were hot,’ over some of your PR.…”
Jones joined the crowd in a big laugh.
The momentum for unbeaten World Boxing Council lightweight champion Mikey Garcia of Riverside to meet unbeaten welterweight champion Errol Spence Jr. has renewed after Garcia vacated his International Boxing Federation belt and turned down a fight with mandatory foe Richard Commey.
The interest is in placing Garcia-Spence at AT&T Stadium, home of the Dallas Cowboys, perhaps by the end of February.
-- Former heavyweight champion Tyson Fury has shifted his training camp from Big Bear to Hollywood’s Wild Card Boxing Club as he prepares for his Dec. 1 WBC heavyweight title shot at Staples Center versus unbeaten champion Deontay Wilder.
-- A guaranteed punching fest is scheduled for Thursday night at Fantasy Springs in Indio when Lancaster’s Neeco Macias returns from throwing 1,007 total punches and a light-middleweight record 196 punches in one round in a September sixth-round technical knockout victory there to meet fellow volume puncher Jesus Soto-Karass.
Until next time