More than a month has passed since Ben Askren's ONE Championship welterweight title defense against Luis Santos ended in anticlimactic fashion when a first-round eyepoke rendered the Brazilian challenger unable to continue. The injury, diagnosed as a corneal abrasion, prematurely stopped a contest that was looking to be the most competitive of Askren's recent career.
Terms of a rematch have yet to be finalized, though according to ONE Champion CEO Victor Cui, an announcement should be arriving stateside soon.
"I want to make that rematch happen as soon as possible," Cui recently told MMAFighting.com. "We're waiting to hear back from Santos' camp. The doctor said it was somewhere from a four- to six-week break for him, so we're going to wait until he comes back and schedule that as quickly as we can."
The no contest marked the first blemish on Askren's otherwise flawless professional record. Santos surprised many by succeeding where a majority of Askren's past opponents have failed, fighting off the Olympian's inimitable takedown arsenal -- albeit only for two minutes -- before succumbing to the eyepoke.
Askren remained furious at the situation in the days afterward, telling MMAFighting.com that he felt Santos was playing up his eye injury and feigning an inability to speak English with in-cage officials. Cui wouldn't go that far, though he admitted to feeling his own disappointment at the bizarre way the eyepoke was handled in-cage and the lackluster way the fight fight ended.
"For me personally, and for the fans, I really wanted to see the fight continue. I think that would've been great," Cui said.
"Now if the doctor says there's an injury, there's an injury, right? So based on that, I think it was the right call from the referee. It was disappointing for the fans, because I know it got a lot of attention and Askren's fanbase out here is just, it even shocks me at how popular he is out there in Asia already. But he knows how to make himself popular. He knows he to stay in front of the media and be entertaining."
At least in the western world, Askren remains one of the highest-profile fighters signed under the ONE Championship banner, and the undefeated 30-year-old believes that if promoted right, his rematch against Santos could be "one of the biggest fights" the promotion has ever put together.
Considering that ONE Championship is an organization based in Singapore and geared primarily towards the Asian market, Cui admits he wasn't sure how Asian audiences would respond to the moppy-haired, trash-talking American when he first made a play to secure Askren's services. But now that Askren has gotten a trio of fights under his belt in the ONE cage, Cui says he's been genuinely surprised at how quickly the Asian fanbase has taken to the welterweight champion.
"I think they look at him with a lot of interest," Cui said. "I mean, they can see he's a talented athlete and, you know, interesting to listen to whenever he does a media interview. As our world champion, he's been phenomenal. He's raised the profile, brought us a lot of attention. He's making new fans out here. In Asia, he kind of epitomizes a lot of the stereotypes that people have of Americans. So it's interesting to hear. They want to hear somebody speak their mind. They want to hear somebody trash talk. They want to hear somebody go off the cuff, his hair messed up, and that kind of thing. That's interesting to a lot of Asians."