In one of the more surprising free agent signings in MMA in quite some time, prized (or maybe not prized?) welterweight free agent Ben Askren has agreed to join ONE FC, according to a report from BloodyElbow.com after whispers of him signing there emerged in the last few days. According to MMAFighting.com, which confirmed Askren has a verbal agreement with ONE FC in place, Askren will receive a two-year, six-fight contract from the Asian-based promotion, and that his debut date and opponent will be announced shortly. This news is pretty shocking, as I expected Askren to sign with World Series of Fighting and attempt to work his way up to the UFC after taking out name fighters like Jon Fitch and Josh Burkman, a stipulation UFC president Dana White put on a possible signing after they refused to sign Askren straight out of Bellator due to a “lack of competition.” Clearly, Askren took the most lucrative deal out there, as ONE FC has big pockets and has given out big contracts to star fighters like Shinya Aoki and Bibiano Fernandes in the past. So I’m assuming the contract he signed with ONE is well within the six figures. However, the difference between Askren and Aoki and Fernandes is Askren isn’t well known in Asia, where ONE FC operates, while Aoki and Fernandes are. This leads me to believe that signing Askren to their roster is more of less a publicity stunt in order to gain their promotion more attention in North America. If you look at the main MMA websites stemming from North America, it’s typically very rare to find news about ONE FC, as it falls below the UFC, Bellator, World Series of Fighting, and even Invicta as far as news stories go. But today, ONE FC is all over the news, and that’s because North American MMA fans are interested in Askren, which is something that can’t really be said about 90 percent of the other fighters on their roster. It’s hard for ONE FC to gain traction in North American because of the time difference of their events. On a typical weekend, there’s a UFC and Bellator event, as well as something smaller like Legacy FC or World Series of Fighting. That’s about enough for most MMA fans to digest. But ONE FC also has an event once in a while, and when they do it’s an internet stream on Friday or Saturday morning at like 8 a.m. EST, and it costs $10. For me, even though I’m a hardcore MMA fan, that’s just overkill, and I typically pass on watching, although I’ll check out the .gifs later if there was a cool finish people were talking about. But with Askren signing, I’ll more than likely get up early in the morning and watch the event, because there’s an allure behind “Funky” that makes me want to watch him fight, even if he is mostly a grinding-wrestler type. The only issue I have with this signing for ONE FC is, who does Asken fight? Looking at the ONE FC roster, the only name welterweights they have are Phil Baroni and Roger Huerta. In other words, not very intriguing matchups, although a possible welterweight “super fight” against Shinya Aoki is interesting. But I guess for ONE, it’s just an investment at the end of the day, and it’s very much possible they reach their goal with this signing, which I believe is to bring more media attention to their organization to North America going forward. I’m sure there are many fans and media members who are the same as me, in that they’ll watch Askren’s fights in ONE FC, and maybe we’ll become bigger fans of the promotion if we are given more exposure to it. But even if we do or don’t, ONE FC’s has made a bold statement with this news.