Here comes ONE Championship to try to fill a void in the global MMA landscape.
UFC and Pride Fighting Championships represent the pinnacles of mixed martial arts in the sport's 25-plus-year history, producing all-time great fighters and laying the foundation for the modern version of MMA. Japan's Pride FC folded in 2007, due to a combination of mismanagement and UFC poaching its biggest stars; UFC went on to become a worldwide goliath. Now, Singapore-based ONE Championship is trying to recreate the magic of Pride FC in Asia -- and take on the world.
ONE Championship, led by CEO Chatri Sityodtong, has been smoothly branded and has become a destination for super-talented yet unproven fighters. ONE Championship events bring in an average of 11 million viewers in Asia, according to Nielsen. Compare that to a peak of 1.9 million viewers for UFC's debut on ESPN in January.
ONE Championship’s growth helped it secure a three-year broadcast deal with Turner Sports that includes 24 events broadcasted on the Bleacher Report Live platform (which aired the Tiger Woods-Phil Mickelson golf match play duel, for example) and 12 condensed replays on TNT. ONE Championship 92: A New Era, the first event on B/R Live, will air March 31 (starting at 2:30 a.m. ET; main card starts at 5:30) and feature the ONE debuts of Demetrious Johnson and Eddie Alvarez.
ONE has big plans for the U.S. market, and brought in former UFC champions Rich Franklin and Miesha Tate to act as ambassadors and liaisons to the fighters. The company has brought in stars such as Johnson, Alvarez and Sage Northcutt, going for the respectful, businesslike type over any trash talkers.
“I don’t think (Conor McGregor) would do well out here in Asia based on the fact of some of the things that he did,” Sityodtong on Ariel Helwani’s MMA Show in December. “I don’t want to badmouth anybody, and Conor is his own guy. There are going to be companies for x, y and z type of people. I think what you see now with companies like UFC, ONE Championship and Bellator, an athlete can choose where he or she is best represented or most feels at home for core values.”
He added, “DJ (Demetrious Johnson), he will never be the trash talker or the guy who disses people. He is always going to take the high road, a man of character, man of values. For him to find a home here in ONE Championship, he will be valued greatly and be much happier.”
ONE Championship has a long way to go to catch UFC in terms of talent and market impact. Perhaps in the future, we’ll see a UFC vs. ONE pay-per-view event, something that Pride FC wanted to do, but failed to execute.