While it has yet to be formally announced one way or the other, the trade that will see Demetrious Johnson go to ONE Championship and Ben Askren go to the UFC seems as if it is a done deal. In many ways we’d be doing a disservice to suggest that this is a huge moment in the history of mixed martial arts, because it really does feel like it represents so much more than that.
Mighty Mouse is widely considered to be one of the greatest fighters of all time, even after losing his Flyweight Championship to Henry Cejudo earlier this year. He was always viewed as an underappreciated champion by the masses, to the point where he was rarely pushed in a big way by the promotion.
On the other hand you’ve got Ben Askren: a man who is widely considered to be one of the greatest welterweights of all time, and yet, he has also been under-appreciated – but in a very different manner. The quality of opposition that he faced over in ONE and Bellator led to a great deal of criticism over what he was truly capable of, and now, we’ll get the chance to find out on the biggest stage of them all.
But this isn’t about titles and it isn’t about egos, because it’s about the future. This trade could well represent the start of a whole new era for MMA, with the introduction of trades making for some intriguing possibilities. The debate as to what kind of power these promotions hold over fighters will likely never cease, but perhaps trades will open the door for some more clarity on the situation.
The terms ’employee’ and ‘independent contractor’ are thrown around so often now that a lot of fans feel worn down, to the point where they just put it to the back of their mind – but that’s not how things should work. Fans want to see the figures, fans want to know more about the negotiations, and fans want to see more flexibility among the top companies. It’ll help the UFC and MMA as a whole to build that true sporting atmosphere, in line with the NFL, NBA and beyond. We aren’t suggesting they should have drafts or anything like that, but it’s exciting to feel like anything is possible in 2018.
Then, of course, we come to the ‘options’ argument. There came a time a few years back when it seemed like the UFC and Bellator were the only two games in town, but those days are over. The Ultimate Fighting Championship will always be the MMA leader in our eyes, but giving fighters more opportunities to get paid across places like ONE, KSW, Cage Warriors, PFL, Invicta and more is really healthy.
Good luck, DJ and Askren, because if this goes smoothly then things could start to get very interesting.