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.
As the world plunged into economic oblivion and societal collapse,
When the Doomsday Clock was just two seconds away from midnight,
There was only One thing in the way,
One place where people could find hope,
There was only One,
With 7.8 billion potential viewers potentially clinging breathlessly to every fight, One Championship’s partner, international advocacy group Global Citizen, was uniquely positioned to raise nearly $128 million for the World Health Organization’s Covid-19 Solidarity Response Fund. Only One could bring peace and hope to the people of the world by bringing together international superstars such as Lady Gaga, Elton John, Brandon “The Truth” Vera, Stevie Wonder and Stamp Fairtex.
I fear my homage to One Championship’s “I dare you to fact check” promotional aesthetic may be coming off the wrong way. I love the promotion, outlandish foibles and all, though I’m not sure if it’s despite or because of them. I’ve never had as much fun live at an MMA event as I had at One Championship “A New Era.” (Side note: I also love that the organization has event titles like “Immortal Triumph” and “Warriors of Light.”) I love the perfectly placed “potential” viewership so that the absurd hyperbolic number it references is technically correct—just as it’s technically correct when CEO Chatri Sityodtong says “we raised $128 million,” even though One Championship is a third-tier partner of Global Citizen and likely contributed little to the overall pot.
I love how One Championship mixes muay Thai and MMA in a way that’s fresh and enjoyable and how it makes an effort to tell an origin story for each fighter on the card. I love its underrated talent and how commentator Mitch Chilson sounds like he’s either bursting with joy or passing a kidney stone for the duration of the event.
Yes, the hyperbole is ridiculous, and it’s easy to poke fun at its branding of prizefighting as steeped in “deep-rooted Asian values of integrity, humility, honor, respect, courage, discipline and compassion.” One Championship is the straight-edge kid at the party who reminds you frequently and loudly that he doesn’t need drugs or alcohol to have a good time. Obnoxious as that may be, I’m glad a notable MMA promotion like that exists. If anything, it’s often preferable to the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s ethos of drummed-up drama and dull dominance: the guy who can’t have a good time without finding a new way to get wasted. I’d rather live in a world where MMA promotions at least project an image of honor and respect than one filled with UFC barnacles and gimmicky spinoffs.
Plus, One Championship is genuinely making an effort to help, even if it exaggerates its role—or, more accurately, presents its role in technically correct yet misleading ways and allows it to be exaggerated. The organization is, in fact, donating money to the World Health Organization’s Covid-19 relief fund, and the fact that it even bothered to partner with Global Citizen—a nonprofit dedicated to ending extreme poverty in the world—shows it is socially aware on a level that no other promotion has been. One Championship doesn’t have to be engaged in any of that kind of work, and few would have been critical of the company had it never done so. Yet it chose to anyway, and even if it was for purely cynical and self-serving purposes, the organization is nevertheless adding some good into the world on its own volition. Operating in and representing a region still plagued with extreme poverty makes these gestures all the more meaningful.
Alas, I can’t fault anyone for their kneejerk eyerolls whenever the 2.7 billion potential viewers are brought up. It’s a ridiculous claim that a third of the human population (maybe) tunes in to the third-most prominent MMA organization. Fans should freely ridicule One Championship as long as that line is in its promotional rotation. Still, we are all given a choice, to either shake our calculators in the air and yell “It’s not true!” or to enjoy a delightfully and harmlessly cartoonish attempt at posturing. It’s at least more entertaining than the UFC’s shrugging entitlement or Bellator MMA’s younger-brother-tapping-your-shoulder spirit.
Besides, don’t we want hyperbole? We already accept it from fighters when they tell us about all of their best training camps ever, and we tolerate it from commentators who anoint a new Greatest of All-Time every other weekend. The spirit of being over the top is baked into the pursuit of prizefighting and has manifested multiple times in numerous ways in MMA’s shallow history, from decades of professional wrestling crossovers to one-night tournaments and openweight freakshow fights. A cold, sober approach to fighting is no doubt necessary—when people are sacrificing their physical and neurological health for our entertainment, it’s important not to anesthetize ourselves with delusion—but it is also limiting. People are drawn to this sport for various reasons, from its raw allure of contained violence to its visceral encapsulation of human struggle. One Championship embraces the mystical and imaginative capacities of MMA, and even when it veers into the realm of the outrageous, the overall landscape is richer and better off because of it.
Eric Stinton is a writer from Kailua, Hawaii. His fiction, nonfiction and journalism have appeared in Bamboo Ridge, The Classical, Harvard Review Online, Honolulu Civil Beat, Medium and Vice Sports, among others. He has been writing for Sherdog since 2014. You can reach him on Twitter at @TombstoneStint, or find his work at ericstinton.com.