Former UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson couldn’t be happier to be part of the organization’s first high-profile “trade.”
In fact, he was a major part of pushing the deal forward.
Johnson saw an opportunity for himself to compete in ONE Championship, the largest mixed martial arts promotion in Asia. The biggest hindrance was his UFC contract, but it turned out one of ONE’s biggest stars had his eyes on making the switch in the opposite direction and the wheels were set in motion.
Malki Kawa, Johnson’s manager, began working behind the scenes on what would be a historic deal for Johnson to head to ONE and Ben Askren to finally compete in the UFC.
It came to fruition last week, though it wasn’t a trade in the traditional sense. Both fighters wanted to sign in the other organization, so a deal was worked out for both to be released from their current contracts in order to sign with their new promotion.
Askren is a former two-time NCAA wrestling champion who is 18-0 as a pro. For Johnson, it’s a chance to expand his horizons and his global marketability after making a far bigger impact in the UFC record book than at the box office.
“At the end of the day, I felt that I’m pretty young in my career and I wanted to try something different,” Johnson said. “I’ve always wanted to travel the world and compete and actually grew up watching Asian mixed martial arts mostly. To be able to have the opportunity to travel over to Asia in a whole new weight class, it’s something I couldn’t pass up.”
Johnson’s coach Matt Hume is also a ONE executive.
Askren is expected to face a top-five challenger for his UFC debut, though there is no timetable. He has spent the last several days calling out challengers in several weight classes, though he has made it clear he has no interest in fighting his close friend and former college teammate Tyron Woodley, who is currently the UFC welterweight champion.
UFC heads back to MSG
Two-division champion Daniel Cormier will put his heavyweight belt on the line against Derrick Lewis in the main event of UFC 230 at Madison Square Garden in New York on Saturday.
The pay-per-view event also will feature a middleweight contender bout between Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and former champ Chris Weidman.
Cormier’s light heavyweight belt is expected to be stripped next month when Jon Jones faces Alexander Gustafsson in the main event of UFC 232 at T-Mobile Arena.