The UFC and ONE Championship are reportedly on the verge of an historic transaction involving two of the top fighters in mixed martial arts.
According to a Wednesday report from ESPN’s Ariel Helwani, “There is a proposed deal on the table for the UFC to release former flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson from his contract in order to allow him to sign with ONE. In return, ONE will release former welterweight champion Ben Askren from his contract so he can finally join the UFC.”
No official announcement has been made, but Askren retweeted Helwani’s original report and earlier this week when a fan on Twitter asked him to put a percentage on the odds he’d ever fight in the UFC, Askren replied by writing “98%”.
Askren (18-0 with one no-contest) has competed in ONE since 2014 after spending years as Bellator’s welterweight champion. The 34-year-old freestyle wrestling world champion and member of the 2008 United States Olympic team has been considered among the top handful of welterweights in MMA since he won Bellator’s 170-pound title back in 2010. However, his level of competition in both Bellator and ONE has always cast a shadow of doubt on Askren’s greatness.
Johnson (27–3–1) lost the UFC’s flyweight title in August at UFC 227 when he was on the wrong end of a tightly-contested split decision that went in favour of current champ Henry Cejudo.
Johnson, whose nickname is Mighty Mouse because of his blazing speed in the cage, is considered by some, including fellow MMA great Georges St-Pierre, to be the best pound-for-pound talent in MMA history.
Johnson does have a connection to the Singapore-based promotion, as his longtime trainer, Matt Hume, happens to be ONE’s vice president of operations.
In 2003, the UFC loaned Chuck Liddell to the defunct Pride Fighting Championships for fights with Alistair Overeem and Quinton “Rampage” Jackson but this Johnson-for-Askren swap would be a more-or-less unheard of move for the UFC.