LONDON — Ben Askren flew to England for the first time in his life this week, and everybody knows exactly why he did it — but it’s still fun to hear him say it matter-of-factly.
“I am here, in London, because I’m trying to pick a fight,” Askren beams.
Askren (19-0) came out semi-retirement to sign with the UFC late last year after it appeared he’d simply never get a chance with the promotion. His sense of humor and knack for public callouts have already injected plenty of life into the welterweight division, and he picked up his first UFC win earlier this month against Robbie Lawler.
That bout ended in controversy, however, as Lawler immediately signaled that referee Herb Dean mistakenly stopped it too early from a choke. UFC president Dana White told ESPN he intended to set up a rematch, but Askren has other plans. And he believes they’re coming together.
“I haven’t heard anything from Dana about [the rematch], so I’m assuming that it’s not a big deal and it’s not happening,” Askren said. “I’m here to pick a fight with [Saturday’s UFC Fight Night headliners] Darren Till or Jorge Masvidal.”
It would appear as though Askren is doing a fine job so far. He said Masvidal “cursed” at him in the hotel lobby when he first arrived. And on Friday, during a fan question/answer session before the UFC Fight Night weigh-ins at O2 Arena, Askren was calling for Till so much, Till emerged from backstage just to yell at him.
“It’s something different,” said Askren, on what’s behind his instant popularity with UFC fans. “It’s funny. It’s something original. [Other welterweights] are not saying anything that no one has heard before. People just want something different. I think that’s the reason I’m catching on right now.”
Askren, of Hartland, Wisconsin, will have a seat in the front row on Saturday, when Till (17-1-1) squares off with Masvidal (32-13). The UFC has not indicated whether Askren will fight the winner — if anything, White has stated the opposite. But the way things are going for Askren in the UFC so far, it’s hard not to like his chances.
“Listen, I’ve enjoyed my whole career, but the best thing for me is all these guys have been saying all these things about me and now I get to watch them squirm and make these excuses why they shouldn’t have to fight me,” Askren said.