ONE Championship takes the struggle to the UFC with first US card | Information


Almost 30 years after the UFC held its first struggle card in Denver, the Singapore-based ONE Championship is about to placed on its inaugural US occasion within the Colorado metropolis because it seeks to problem its rival promotion’s dominance by itself territory.

ONE CEO Chatri Sityodtong says that whereas the Colorado state fee was significantly desperate to host the struggle, the situation can also be a “celebration of the birthplace of American blended martial arts” and Friday’s occasion would be the first of many for the franchise in the USA.

“It’s a really historic second for the corporate,” he instructed Al Jazeera.

“The UFC has a lion’s share of the Western Hemisphere [martial arts audience]. We’ve got a lion’s share of the Japanese Hemisphere,” Sityodtong stated. “I consider with 8 billion folks on this planet that the world is sufficiently big for 2 world fight sports activities giants.”

Chatri Sityodtong, CEO of ONE Championship [File: Prapan Chankaew/Reuters]

The Thai-Japanese businessman and lifelong martial artist co-founded ONE in 2011. The corporate has since grown to be value an estimated $1bn and is backed by buyers that embrace Sequoia Capital and the Qatar Funding Authority.

Its fighters embrace greats reminiscent of MMA flyweight Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson and Muay Thai fighter Rodtang Jitmuangnon, each of whom are combating on Friday’s card.

In contrast to the UFC – which solely options blended martial arts, or MMA – ONE’s struggle playing cards additionally embrace contests in different disciplines, reminiscent of submission grappling, Muay Thai and kickboxing.

In 2021, ONE was ranked among the many world’s prime 5 greatest sports activities media properties by way of viewership and engagement, in response to US-based market measurement agency Nielsen. That put it forward of the UFC by way of digital viewership, digital fan engagement and cumulative attain in world broadcast tv.

Whereas large in Asia, ONE is comparatively unknown within the US and is reportedly shedding cash.

Sityodtong says ONE has been steadily constructing its model, content material engines and roster to the purpose the place it is able to shift from funding to monetisation and make the bounce to the US.

“You’ll be able to’t come into America with something lower than the easiest athletes, the easiest world champions, the easiest manufacturing values, the easiest model,” he stated.

Sityodtong stated ONE will convey a extra healthful and “genuine” martial arts ethos to the US – a swipe on the florid trash speak, threats and peacocking typically discovered within the UFC – and says fighters needs to be function fashions.

“Why do tens of millions of oldsters ship their youngsters to martial arts colleges everywhere in the world? It’s to not grow to be a trash talker, insulting different folks’s religions and households and kids. It’s to be taught honour, respect, work ethic and braveness and all of the unbelievable values that martial arts espouses. And we hope to showcase genuine martial arts,” he stated.

One Championship
ONE Championship is big in Asia [File: Bullit Marquez/AP]

However some trade insiders consider ONE will battle to put a glove on the UFC in North America.

MMA commentator Sean Wheelock instructed Al Jazeera that worldwide martial arts promotions have to get a foothold in North America and Denver is well-respected as a sports activities metropolis. However he says the UFC has grown too dominant to problem and MMA followers within the US are by default UFC followers.

“For ONE Championship, I feel it’s a serious step for them. I feel for those who’re the UFC, you don’t even pay it any consideration,” he stated.

The UFC, in the meantime, goes from power to power. This 12 months, it merged with WWE into an organization reportedly valued at $21bn.

Wheelock stated ONE’s actual opponents are promotions reminiscent of Bellator and the Skilled Fighters League (PFL).

“Making an attempt to be a dominant second place in a really, very profitable and worthwhile trade. That’s one thing that ONE might positively attain.”

MMA fighter Demetrious Johnson
Combined martial arts fighter Demetrious Johnson is among the prime names on the ONE roster [File: Eugene Hoshiko/AP]

Wheelock famous that ONE’s rule units pose the most important problem to its enlargement in North America.

ONE follows its personal world rule set, which most controversially permits kicks or knees to the heads of a grounded opponent – strikes which are unlawful within the unified guidelines, adopted by the UFC and different US-based promotions. ONE additionally has self-created judging standards, which don’t rating on a round-by-round foundation – in contrast to within the UFC.

Whereas Colorado fee agreed to ONE’s rule units, many US states are unlikely to observe.

“If ONE desires to have a foothold in the USA, I feel they actually need to do some soul looking and assume, are they going to completely insist on utilizing their guidelines and judging standards,” Wheelock stated.

“Or do they go into the unified guidelines, which signifies that their fights are actually going to look quite a bit like all people else’s fights in North America, however they will get into states which are very fascinating within the struggle recreation – like California, New York, New Jersey, Florida, Texas, Nevada.”

Jerry Millen – supervisor of Russian heavyweight MMA star Fedor Emelianenko and the previous vp of Pleasure, a preferred Japan-based MMA promotion, which staged US fights and was energetic from 1997 to 2007 – says that whereas he respects Sityodtong as a “actual martial arts purist”, ONE’s many disciplines featured in the identical occasion might flip US struggle followers off.

“American crowds don’t like jiujitsu. Let’s be trustworthy, they don’t prefer it when the struggle goes to the bottom,” he instructed Al Jazeera.

Millen highlighted the rising buzz within the US across the Naked Knuckle Combating Championship, which has been thrilling many struggle followers with its rawness, simplicity and fast-paced wars.

“[ONE is] everywhere in the martial arts world, which is nice, however you don’t need to be jack of all trades, grasp of none.”

Millen stated that whereas it’s a lengthy and arduous highway to earn cash within the struggle recreation, it was value ONE testing the US market with an occasion that didn’t pose a threat to its enterprise.

“, lots of people speak a giant recreation and lots of people say they’re going to come back to America. Effectively, [ONE] did it. So you bought to take your hats off to them for even pulling it off,” he stated.

Wheelock stated what finally appeals to followers is “nice fights with nice fighters and seeing fighters who they know and are stars or are rapidly growing stars”.

Francis Ngannou
Francis Ngannou is the UFC’s former heavyweight champion and now a free agent [File: Jeff Bottari/handout photo via USA Today Sports]

ONE’s negotiations to signal former UFC heavyweight champion Francis Ngannou, arguably MMA’s most coveted free agent, for a reported $20m fell by way of this week.

Sityodtong stated they failed to succeed in a deal over “non-financial” issues, together with requests by Ngannou for a seat on ONE’s board of administrators and a say over his opponents’ pay.

However Ngannou instructed journalist Ariel Helwani that he had simply met Sityodtong as a courtesy and has one other promotion lined up, rumoured within the media to be PFL.

However, ONE’s inventory is rising, and Friday’s struggle card, to be screened on Amazon Prime, comprises intriguing match-ups.

Johnson, regarded by many because the greatest-ever MMA flyweight, is seeking to settle accounts with the Brazilian Adriano Moraes of their trilogy struggle for the ONE flyweight title and has hinted that it might be his last bout.

In the meantime, Sage “Tremendous” Northcutt, 27, a former UFC scorching prospect, is making his first return to the octagon in 4 years.

In 2019, throughout his first and to date solely struggle with ONE, his face was fractured in eight locations in a knockout loss 29 seconds into the struggle.

After therapeutic from that harm and overcoming problems from a bout of COVID-19, he’s now raring to go and says his skillset has improved since his time without work – though he faces a harmful and well-rounded opponent in Pakistan’s Ahmed Mujati of their light-weight MMA bout.

“I haven’t actually received to point out ONE Championship followers what I’m capable of do as a result of clearly my first struggle with ONE didn’t go as deliberate,” he stated. “I’m simply very excited. I need to make ONE pleased with who they signed and to have an incredible, lengthy profession. I’m nonetheless younger, so I’ve loads of time.”

Northcutt stated the multidisciplinary nature of ONE drew him to the promotion.

“After [this fight], I want to do some submission grappling, kickboxing, Muay Thai, I’d like to do all of it, really.”

Sityodtong, in the meantime, is happy about his prospect and talks up Northcutt’s future with attribute chutzpah.

“I feel it’s going to be one of many biggest comeback tales in MMA historical past.”

Sage Northcutt punches Enrique Marin
Sage Northcutt, proper, makes his return to the octagon on Friday [File: Rey Del Rio/Getty Images]

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