After waiting 10 years and 19 pro fights to make his long-awaited UFC debut, Ben Askren sure made up for lost time. In a fight that featured an insane amount of violence, drama, suspense, heart and controversy packed into just over three minutes of action, Askren survived nearly being stopped to submit former welterweight champion Robbie Lawler on Saturday at UFC 235 in Las Vegas.
The debate over whether Lawler (28-13, 1 NC) was actually ever unconscious will likely linger on thanks to the inconclusive replays and referee Herb Dean's questionable stoppage. What isn't up for debate, however, is how much Askren (19-0, 1 NC) was forced to endure in a wild and entertaining entrance to the Octagon.
With his face covered in blood and his clock cleaned after being slammed onto his head, Askren rallied to force a takedown and apply a bulldog choke that caused Dean to jump in at 3:20 of Round 1 after Lawler's right arm dropped while he was kneeling. Immediately after the stoppage, though, Lawler popped up to protest before hugging Dean and graciously accepting defeat.
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The disputed victory gave the 34-year-old Askren a chance to incite the crowd and poke the bear in the direction of UFC president Dana White, who feuded with Askren for years while preventing the former Bellator MMA and ONE Championship titleholder from signing with the promotion.
"I want to know how long until Dana bitches about that stoppage," Askren said. "I have one other question, 'Hey Dana, is that really the best you got? Bring it baby.'
"If you watch the tape, I was actually kind of shocked by it but Herb asked him a few times whether he was OK and didn't hear anything, so I was wondering whether he really was out."
The fight began with Askren instantly shooting for a double-leg takedown. Although he was stuffed, he continued to chain wrestle in order to hang on until Lawler lifted Askren up onto his shoulders and dropped him down with a suplex.
Askren appeared to be out as Lawler leaped on top and bloodied him with short elbows and punches. Dean showed restraint in not instantly waving the fight off as Askren scrambled to cover up. Eventually, Askren fought off the attack and worked the fight back up to the feet despite eating clean knee strikes to get there.
After a long clinch along the cage wall that allowed Askren to clear the cobwebs, he eventually wrestled Lawler down and took his back before applying the choke.
"Guys, you can boo. I'm not the freeking referee, that's what it all comes down to," Askren said. "Robbie is obviously one of my favorite fighters so it kind of sucked that I had to fight him first. I was freaking discombobulated from that slam. I landed on my head a little bit and it took me a while to get my wits about me, but I expected a game plan. 'Funky' sure ain't going anywhere.
"Again, I'm not the referee. My job is to come here and fight."
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