Ben Askren's goal: Stay undefeated

Spurned by the UFC, unbeaten welterweight Ben Askren signed a two-year deal with One FC in Asia. Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com

LAS VEGAS -- Ben Askren gives a smooth interview.

The undefeated welterweight is plenty charismatic and (by now) has a pretty good idea of what questions he's going to be asked.

A former champion for Bellator MMA whose contract expired in July, Askren's free agency was a major story in 2013. He eventually signed a two-year deal with Asia-based promotion One FC, after the UFC neglected to offer him a contract.

Drama ensued after the UFC's snub -- Askren at one point referred to UFC president Dana White as, "a bald-headed fat man" -- but it has died down. Askren moved on and will fight for the One FC welterweight title in his promotional debut in May.

Askren causally discussed the details of his free agency with ESPN.com on Thursday. He hesitated during just one question, however, breaking into a wide grin when it was asked:

How many welterweights can you name on the One FC roster?

"[Phil] Baroni, [Adam] Kayoom, [Nobutatsu] Suzuki, [Brock] Larson," Askren said. "There are these two other guys who train in Singapore -- man, I can't remember."

This was the obvious knock Askren took when he signed with One FC in December -- very few in the U.S. (and those few, apparently, don't even include him) are familiar with who he's about to fight for the next two years.

What effect will that have on the reputation you have built since 2009? Askren is currently the No. 8 ranked welterweight in the world according to ESPN.com. A certain contingent of MMA fans believe he's ready to hold the UFC title right now. Will they continue to think that, as he fights thousands of miles away?

"As long as I stay undefeated, people are going to be interested," Askren said. "If I've never lost, it's going to be hard for anyone to discount me."

Any criticism for facing lower-level competition won't exist for Askren in Asia, where the fan base is, at least for now, relatively unaware of whom in the world he is.

One FC CEO Victor Cui, however, is aware of it and promises Askren will not waste his talent fighting nobodies over the next 24 months.

"I know we'll get some exciting matchups out of this," Cui told ESPN.com. "Nobody wants to see a blowout fight. That's not good for the fighters, it's not good for our organization and it's not good for fight fans.

"We've got some pretty exciting plans in store for Ben, none of which we've announced yet. You don't grow as a company as well as we have without a really specific strategy in place for every major acquisition."

The incentive of signing Askren for One FC applies mainly to Asia. The company streams its events online in the U.S., but due to time differences, even a marquee name like Askren on a live stream is a tough sell.

Likewise, Askren's incentives, beyond immediate financials, are linked to Asia. One FC, although limited in the U.S., is undeniably the biggest MMA promotion in Asia and is currently available, according to Cui, in 1 billion homes worldwide.

That's a significant audience Askren is about to be heavily marketed in, and he's already embracing it. Fighting out of Roufusport in Milwaukee, Wis., Askren has agreed to finish his future training camps at Evolve MMA in Singapore.

It has been a strong start to a relationship Cui hopes will eventually persuade Askren, 29, into remaining under contract with One FC long-term.

Askren's contract does include a champion clause, which calls for an "automatic renewal" if he is a title-holder at the expiration of his deal. Cui declined to offer specific details regarding the clause.

"I would hope any fighter that makes their home in One FC is thinking long-term," Cui said. "He's going to see how huge the opportunity is out here."

Following a free agency period that left "a bitter taste" in Askren's mouth, Cui is already ahead of the biggest competition. While time heals all wounds, Askren said he's unsure of whether he'd ever feel comfortable working for the UFC.

"I forgive Dana for not signing me; it's whatever," Askren said. "He obviously had his reasons. I'm going to forgive and forget. I don't know that I'll ever want to work for him, though."