“Who is the best fighter in the world in any given weight class?” Trula Howe of Sherdog.com asked readers yesterday in a profile of ONE Welterweight champion Ben Askren.
“Historically,” she continues, “the answer was the current UFC champion.”
But, Howe points out, there are some exceptions — like Askren, who defends his ONE championship Friday night in the Philippines (local time) against Luis “Sapo” Santos.
On one hand, I agree with her… about Askren. On another, about history — I don’t.
The truth is that MMA has historically enjoyed several different approaches to the sport, with the world’s best fighters divided among more than one promotion.
Just two years ago, the UFC lacked a women’s division at all. Between five and ten years ago, if you wanted to watch the world’s best male fighters under 155 lbs, you would likely watch a Shooto event. Fifteen years ago, PRIDE featured a heavyweight roster far deeper than the UFC’s, and was at least as solid in other divisions.
Go back further, and hear UFC champion Royce Gracie describe his brother Rickson as the best fighter in the family.
But today, the UFC dominates the MMA landscape as never before; and yes, Ben Askren, Howe correctly points out, is an exception.
The consensus top ten welterweight, in fact, believes he is the top 170 lb. fighter in the sport.
“One hundred percent,” Askren said. “I think I am the best welterweight in the world.”
He may well be correct. But will we know without seeing him fight the very best, like Johny Hendricks who he famously defeated in his collegiate wrestling days?
Unfortunately, Askren’s opponent “Sapo” just isn’t the class of fighter which is going to sway the naysayers. In fact, ONE 26: Valor of Champions lacks any familiar names to Western MMA fans.
But it’s a chance to see, at least, one of the best in a different approach to MMA. Maybe if you’re an old fan, it will take you back to another time in MMA. Maybe if you’re a new fan, you’ll enjoy a breath of fresh air.
After all — maybe Askren is the best, and maybe not, but he’ll make for a heck of a sight to see with your morning coffee Thursday morning US time.
The online PPV begins at 7:30 ET and is available through onefc.com/livestream.