The world of MMA functions differently than other mainstream sports. For one, it is a combat sport and not a team sport. But it’s also comprised of individual organizations, independent from one another rather than being part of a league.
This means that for much of the sport’s time in the mainstream, organizations have stuck to themselves and rarely discussed cross-promotional ventures. Fans only got to see UFC champions vs. PRIDE FC champions after the former company had purchased the latter.
Likewise, the UFC would usually bring talent in from Strikeforce and WEC on a strictly contract basis, before bringing in the WEC’s lighter weight classes altogether. The notion of trading fighters between promotions is something new. But there is a first time for everything, and the UFC may be about to make history.
Rumors have circulated that the promotion is working on a deal with Singapore-based combat sports promotion ONE Championship. The promotion made US headlines recently for their signing of former Bellator and UFC champion Eddie Alvarez. But they may be snagging another big talent, in the form of the UFC’s longest-reigning champion.
Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson was the flyweight division’s inaugural champion, and only recently tasted defeat in the division by a narrow decision loss following a record number of title defenses. Johnson’s loss seemed to warrant an immediate rubber match against Henry Cejudo, with whom he is now 1-1.
After rumors that the entire 125-pound division may be scrapped, it seems Johnson could be heading to Singapore to start the next chapter in his career. While his size made some question his marketability, Johnson is a technical, well-rounded fighter who always puts on a show.
In return, the UFC will be securing a talent they’ve been after for quite some time. Wrestling standout Ben Askren has fought in multiple promotions including Bellator over the years. The grappling-specialist competes in the welterweight division and has yet to taste defeat in his professional MMA career. There are plenty of interesting matchups for him in the UFC, with many fans curious to see how he does against top competition.
The proposed trade of Johnson for Askren brings up questions of how the future of MMA may look. Now with multiple promotions able to offer fighters big money and provide them the chance to compete in front of large audiences, the sport’s athletes have some options. But options will exist for the promoters as well – trades could be a way to ensure rosters don’t become stale, and to get around frustrating problems that can arise in matchmaking.
For example, in Johnson’s case, he’s beaten everyone in the division, including Cejudo, before being bested in a recent fight. With Cejudo seemingly willing to move up and face bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw, Johnson could likely have more meaningful fights in a new promotion.
The same goes with Askren – after cutting his teeth in many promotions across the world, the trade will allow fans to see how the wrestling great’s skills translate to the US’s biggest MMA talent pool.