One Championship: Truly Different?

By Patrick Auger Jul 18, 2019
Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed below are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Sherdog.com, its affiliates and sponsors or its parent company, Evolve Media.

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On July 12, One Championship founder and CEO Chatri Sityodtong was interviewed by The Daily about the MMA promotion’s upcoming plans for expansion inside the United States. The topics discussed included One’s broadcast media rights deal with Turner Sports, when the organization will host an event on U.S. soil, and how the company differentiates itself from the Ultimate Fighting Championship. But what is driven home in every answer given by Sityodtong during the interview is a clear message -- One Championship is what real martial arts is all about.

“We do believe that our formula is 180 degrees opposite from anything that exists in the U.S. market in terms of combat sports … One Championship builds heroes, much like the Olympics,” Sityodtong said. “We want the best athletes in the world, but we also want heroes outside of the cage. We are looking to tell their stories of triumph over adversity to inspire the world … Everything is done in an honorable and respectable way that has human dignity.”

That’s certainly a different vision than the one held by the UFC. Though the bouts themselves are sport, the UFC often rewards exciting, charismatic fighters who trash talk over those who fail to put on a show. Questionable matchmaking is generally justified by UFC President Dana White as “what the fans want to see” regardless of how lucrative it is for the promotion, or else it is justified with reference to a ranking system that has its fair shares of flaws. The UFC isn’t shy when it comes to putting entertainment value above merit, and the only heroes in their book are the ones who bring in a million-plus pay-per-view buys.

On the surface, One Championship certainly appears to be the antithesis of the “entertainment” style of MMA. Representing what Sityodtong calls “authentic martial arts,” One has been making a push with the Global Association of Mixed Martial Arts to get MMA into the Olympics. One athletes are said to be taken care of by the company, with lightweight legend Eddie Alvarez reporting that he was treated better by One after he lost than when he held the title in the UFC. In the “About Us” section of One Championship’s website, the first thing at the top of the page are the words “Integrity, humility, honor, respect, courage, discipline, compassion” in big, bold letters.

Whether or not the company truly believes its mission is to “unleash real-life superheroes who ignite the world with hope, dreams, inspiration and strength,” the promotion is trying to build an entertainment empire around that idea. From its television and movie division One Studios that launched this past April, to its One Esports gaming arm with former UFC Flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson as its ambassador, One is looking to create a multi-product business that revolves around its brand of real-life martial arts superheroes. The more that brand gains recognition and acceptance, the more One will be able to increase its audience and, hypothetically, its revenue.

As for how the mixed martial arts world currently views One, the reaction is mixed. Many fighters and coaches have lauded One’s practices, and big-name UFC stars continue to make the jump to compete in the promotion. Miesha Tate has even joined the organization in an executive role. Others, like Will Chope, who was released by the UFC after Bleacher Report alleged he was discharged from the Air Force for domestic violence, have been outspoken about their skepticism when it comes to One’s claims of integrity.

There’s no denying that One Championship is on the rise, with big-name signings and global broadcast deals being secured by the promotion. As mentioned at the beginning of the article, the organization is looking to expand further into the U.S. and carve out some of the market share currently dominated by the UFC, though it may be some time before that happens.

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