It's not been an easy year for #BenAskren.
The current #ONEChampionship welterweight champion has been inactive since his win at ONE: Global Warriors back in April 2016, when he successfully defended his title against Russian fighter, Nikolai Aleksakhin.
Since then, Askren has sat on the sidelines whilst fans have been begging the question--where is Ben Askren? Having now finally been booked to face Agilan Thani on May 26 at ONE: Dynasty of Heroes, Askren spoke exclusively to Champions.co earlier this week, and gave some insight as to why he's been on the shelf.
"None of the damn jabronis want to fight me," Askren said bluntly. "I'm just excited I'm going to be back fighting again. I signed a contract last September to fight Vitaly Bigdash at middleweight in Thailand last December, but in October, the king of Thailand passed away and the event had to be called off. When they went to rebook the fight for Malaysia, Vitaly Bigdash suddenly refused to fight me. I don't know why there was a change of heart from him, but he refused to sign the contract."
Unfortunately for Askren, this was just the start of things to come.
"What followed was a very frustrating process because they tried to get Bigdash and Luis Sapo to fight me, but neither of them would do so," Askren said. "I guess luckily for me, this Agilan Thani, or whatever his name is, he wants to fight me and has been asking for it since February. Good for him, at least he wants to fight. These other idiots will talk s*it publicly, but when it comes to signing the contract they wouldn't do so."
This is just the latest chapter in the bizarre Ben Askren and Luis Sapo feud. The two first met inside the ONE cage in April 2015. That evening, the fight was called a no-contest after Sapo stated he could no longer continue after an accidental eye-poke after two minutes and nineteen seconds of the first round.
The two were then scheduled to rematch in November 2015, however complications with Sapo's weight just hours before weigh-ins meant that the bout never came to fruition.
"I've said yes multiple times now, but from my understanding, he's wanting to go down a weight class or wants a catchweight bout or something," Askren said. "He's been offered the fight multiple times, but every time he goes missing for days when he gets sent the contract. They [ONE] have said to me they hope he realizes he's not getting another fight until he says yes to you, but he's never said yes."
Unfortunately for Askren, the latter isn't quite the way things have panned out. Earlier today, ONE announced that Sapo will fight Vuyisile Colossaon on the same night that Askren faces Thani. Given Askren's response when asked if he would face Santos again, it would appear the stumbling block to getting the fight made lies with the Brazilian.
"Honestly, I don't trust him," Askren said. "What after the whole weight missing issue and the eye-poke thing, which I still, in my opinion, think he was faking. I don't trust the guy, but from my understanding he still refuses to say yes to the fight. I'm going to call both those jack*sses out after the fight with Thani, both Sapo and Bigdash"
While frustrated with the way things have played out with Sapo and Bigdash in the past few months, Askren also realizes that part of the reason he's been on the shelf has been due to a lack of other viable contenders in ONE.
"Let's face it, ONE need to sign more welterweights," Askren said. "The crop is thin and there aren't a lot of guys for me to fight and it's one of the reasons why I've been on the bench so long. That combined with those jabronis refusing to fight me is why I've not been fighting. In my time in Bellator, all my opponents were chosen for me. It was just a case of whoever they wanted me to fight, I fought--that was just the way it was."
Askren then explained the attitude he has about proving to people he's the best in the world. Suffice to say, it includes taking on any man, any time, anywhere.
"If I'm going to prove I'm the best guy, I need to prove I can beat everybody," Askren said. "That's all there is to it. If I'm the best guy, then I'm the best guy. It's not, 'I'm the best guy, but he's got a style that might be tough for me'. It's not that at all. You got to prove it. I've never waited more than 30-seconds to sign a contract against anybody. I've told ONE, I don't care, I'll sign the contract. You don't even need to tell me who the opponent is, I'll sign. I just want to fight and I know I'm the best guy in my weight class."
A win against Thani won't prove he's the best in the world, but a fight with Sapo and Bigdash would give everyone a timely reminder to fans that Askren belongs in there with the elite. For now at least, it's all eyes on ONE: Dynasty of Heroes on May 26.