Ben Askren officially a free agent

Ben Askren officially became an unrestricted free agent Thursday as Bellator Fighting Championships announced it would not re-sign the welterweight champion.

Bellator will waive its contractual matching rights on Askren, who has fought for the company since 2010. The Bellator 170-pound title will remain vacant until Douglas Lima faces the winner of the Season 9 welterweight tournament early next year.

"I had a number of discussions with Ben and it became clear it was time for both parties to move in different directions," Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney said in a statement. "We've relinquished any fight to match here and Ben can sign with whoever he chooses to sign with. Ben's been at Bellator since the start of his career. I respect him and what he's accomplished and wish him the best wherever he goes."

A former NCAA wrestling champion at Missouri, Askren (12-0) won the Bellator title in October 2010 and made four successful defenses. He finished out his contract in July with a TKO victory over Andrey Koreshkov.

Last month, Rebney told ESPN.com he would waive matching rights on Askren if the UFC were to tender an offer that included an immediate title shot. UFC president Dana White quickly dismissed the idea.

No deal with the UFC has been announced, although Askren did reference the promotion on his Twitter account Thursday.

"I am now free to go to the UFC and beat whoever I want," he tweeted.