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ONE FC exec: Askren's arduous task ahead

10/19/2014

In 2014, Ben Askren has seemingly spent more time tweeting about the UFC than fighting for the promotion he's actually signed to -- Asia-based company ONE FC.

To be clear, Askren, 30, doesn't focus his commentary solely on the UFC. He'll talk about anything related to mixed martial arts on social media. But the posts that grab the most attention are UFC-related and often mention, in some form or another, the company's president, Dana White.

In many ways, 2014 has played out exactly how many thought it would for Askren (14-0). When the UFC snubbed the former Bellator welterweight champion last year, he signed a two-year deal with ONE FC -- which asked the immediate question: Whom would he fight?

ONE FC has emerged as a major presence in Asia and will finish the year having staged 11 total events in eight different countries, but its welterweight roster does not offer many clear challengers to the high-caliber Askren.

Thus far, the Milwaukee-based pro has ran through two ONE FC opponents inside the first round, captured the promotion's belt -- and barely broken a sweat doing it. He could make a third appearance before the end of the year.

As far as headlines in the U.S., the most clicked Askren story of 2014 might not be tied to one of his fights -- maybe it's related to heckling Johny Hendricks at a UFC event in July or getting cut off a television program for criticizing the UFC on-air.

Still, ONE FC vice president of operations Matt Hume, who negotiated Askren's contract, says the UFC-related headlines have not affected Askren's impact on the promotion's goals this year.

"That's what people see in North America," Hume told ESPN.com. "In Asia, it's about him fighting and entertaining the fans. I'm in North America and my ear's on the ground, so I see it. It's entertaining. It's funny when he goes back and forth with Dana.

"I don't see it detrimental to us, though. What he does with Dana doesn't affect how he fights. He's drawing attention on both sides of the ocean. The reality is that it's what he does in the cage that matters."

As has been the case throughout his career, what Askren has done in the ONE FC cage has been nothing short of dominant.

He gave up a surprising takedown to Bakhtiyar Abbasov in his debut in May, but quickly reversed position and submitted Abbasov via arm-triangle. In August, he took Nobutatsu Suzuki down in five seconds and finished him with punches in 84 seconds.

Hume, who acts as ONE FC's matchmaker, feels like Abbasov and Suzuki were quality opponents for Askren and is confident the former U.S. Olympic wrestler will be significantly challenged under the ONE FC banner.

"I don't think about Ben every day, but I certainly do when it's time to make the matchups," said Hume, who is also head trainer to UFC flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson. "The question goes back to every one of his fights, in that he's walked through everybody. My job is to continue to find him challenges. I will do that, and I believe I'm well-suited to do that. I can find someone bad for his style, but it's up to that person to make it up the ranks and get to him.

"Abbasov was a good test. Suzuki was a champion. It's going to get tougher from there. His next challenge will be his most difficult to date."

As to who Askren's next challenge will be, Hume said that last month ONE FC signed a welterweight to a contract who could potentially fight him next, but declined to reveal a name.

Hume did make it clear that Askren is locked into ONE FC, and under no circumstances would the promotion release him in the event the UFC did express interest. The promotion passed on signing Askren last year after a face-to-face in Las Vegas.

"That would be a ridiculous business decision," Hume said. "To say we're going to build up a fighter and then, if you want to leave us at any time, go ahead? We'll invest in you so you can leave for another company? There is definitely no clause in his contract that says he can leave for the UFC whenever he wants."

In Hume's opinion, Askren belongs in the discussion of the best welterweights in the world. Two dominant wins into his contract, ONE FC is confident it has and will continue to provide the right matchups to prove it.