Positioning itself as the largest promotion in Asia and drawing comparisons like “ONE to UFC is like Baidu to Google”, ONE Championship is faced with a dilemma between taking their overall fight quality closer to that of UFC and sticking to its home ground with a potential audience in Asia which easily exceed 1 billion mark the promoter repeatedly claim.
In the last 12 months, ONE had a surge of new fighters from Fomer Soviet Union (FSU) nations, which has been found to be highly successful. Fighters like Vitaly Bigdash, Marat Gafurov, and Timofey Nasyukhin had a lot of success toppling ONE veterans and quickly rose to the top of the pecking order.
The success of the fighters from this region is not exclusive in ONE and very apparent outside the UFC, where 14 out of 50 top fighters outside the UFC listed by mmalatestnews.com in October 2015 originated from Eastern Europe and FSU nations – only second to a more established North America, marking them as the region with the largest untapped potential to produce a top level MMA fighter. On the other hand, Asian fighters, apart from the more developed Asian market like Japan and South Korea, are far and few in between, while the top draws has been signed with UFC.
Adding more FSU and Eastern European fighters into the roster is highly likely to crowd the promotion’s top fighters from the aforementioned region, especially given the apparent skill disparity between the promotion’s top-tier fighters and the rest of its roster, particularly South East Asian fighters. This in turn may detach the promotion from its roots, and potentially lost the hometown support on their own home ground.
Furthermore, venturing to Russia where many FSU and Eastern European fighters fought in to draw homeground support may bring more trouble than its worth, with a smaller potential market and more established competition like M-1 that has held its 200th show last October after more than 10 years of operation. By comparison, ONE’s last China show was its 34th event after 4 years.
On the other hand, sticking to its home market and trying to develop the fighters in Asia ex-Japan will have its challenges as well. After 4 years, the home grown fighters from the region have so far largely unable to break through the upper echelons of ONE Championship – which are dominated by fighters that have solid track record with other 2nd tier promotions or with UFC.
While ONE had some success in invigorating the grassroot MMA, to develop fighters from these grassroot MMA promotions to top of ONE Championship ranks and capable of representing the promotion will take several years, should any come through.
Is co-promotion with M-1 Global a possibility?
The potential audience on the Asian market has been a major talking point for major promotions for several years, including M-1 that had just their second show in China last October.With M-1’s clear intention to venture to Asia, both promotions should be able to generate a mutually benefitting relationship.
M-1 can leverage on ONE’s experience as the only MMA promotion to have held a show in 8 different Asian and a Middle Eastern countries. Similarly, ONE can gain access to the more developed Russian MMA market, but more importantly, it can bolster the ranks and and improve the overall quality of its roster of fighters, particularly on mid-tier, and ultimately reduce the number of debutants fighting for title shots, which highlighted the promotion’s fighters to move up the ranks.
While these look possible on paper, having 2 leading promotions with similar bargaining power may prove to be a challenging feat business wise, and even moreso when their respective owners’ ego come in play.
While Vadim Finkelstein have inked M-1 Global co-promotion with Strikeforce in the past, co-promotion is still unchartered waters for ONE, and with its constant trumpeting of being the UFC equivalent in Asia, co-promotion contradicts such statement in some way, making the idea rather far-fetched.
Highest Ranked Strawweight Outside of the UFC challenged Angela Lee to a title fight in One Championship
28 Years Old, Zhang Weili(16-1) from China has challenged Strawweight champion Angela Lee for her strap in One Championship according to a source close to the Chinese fighter. Zhang who is the champion and fighting for Chinese based promotion Kunlun FC is currently negotiating on a one fight deal to face Angela. According to the source, they would like to determine who is the best women fighter in Asia in a one-off match and would have no problems to fight under the One Championship banner.
Since her pro debut loss in 2013, Zhang has racked up 16 wins in 3 years with a total of 15 finishes. She is the number #6 ranked women strawweight in the World according to Fightmatrix.com, just behind Rose Namajunas who will be facing UFC champion and number #1 ranked strawweight Joanna Jedrzejczyk for the title next month. Angela, on the other hand, is 9 rungs below Zhang at number 15.
While ONE was very eager to have a cross-promotion fight between Angela Lee and Joanna Jedrzejczyk to determine who has the better strawweight, they seem less eager to have a Kunlun FC champion on board for a one fight deal. The source states that ONE would need for Zhang to sign a 2-year exclusive contract first before discussing further for a fight with Angela.
If the source is accurate, ONE seems to be covering their bases this time and would not like for their champion to lose the belt to another promotion without securing Zhang on an exclusive contract. Kunlun, on the other hand, would also not want to lose their best fighter to another Asian promotion. Zhang would be a huge asset to ONE for their expansion in China but it would be tough for them to pry off the Chinese fighter as the source states that Zhang is being paid handsomely on Kunlun FC.
While things are looking bleak for a match between Angela Lee and Zhang Weili to happen in the ONE Championship cage, the fans will be keeping their fingers crossed and hope that they could witness a fight between two of the best women Strawweights in Asia.
Martin Nguyen to challenge Eduard Folayang’s title in Manila for the first champion vs champion fight in ONE Championship
After speculations on who Martin Nguyen’s next opponent when he signed a fight contract, ONE Championship have confirmed that Martin Nguyen is set to challenge Eduard Folayang’s lightweight title in Manila on ONE: LEGENDS OF THE WORLD on 10 November.
The fight is the latest in a series of cross-division fights announced after Shinya Aoki vs Ben Askren and Aung La NSang vs Alain Ngalani, but this will be the first time the reigning ONE Championship titleholders from two weight divisions will clash.
Nguyen’s coach, Fari Salievski, did tease on the idea of Nguyen fighting for the title in different weight divisions , but he teased on a bantamweight division since Martin was underweight for his featherweight title fight against Marat Gafurov.
Despite being on the lighter side of a featherweight division, the new champion decided to challenge the title against a fighter a weight class above him, and opens the possibility of the first fighter in ONE Championship to challenge the title in 3 weight divisions.
“I’m not out only to make a statement, but to go down in history as the best to ever compete under the ONE Championship banner” – Martin Nguyen
ONE: LEGENDS OF THE WORLD will be held in Malls of Asia Arena in Manila on 10 November 2017
Bashir Ahmad embraces new role in ONE Championship
Bashir Ahmad is appointed as the Senior Manager of Industry Partnerships, the role made to develop and strengthen the relationships between ONE Championship and various MMA gyms and promotions.
“Essentially, I see myself doing what I did in Pakistan and working to accelerate the growth of MMA in Asia with other players in the MMA scene,” Ahmad explained.
As the pioneer of Pakistani MMA, Bashir Ahmad has worked to promote MMA in Pakistan, most notably the Shaheen Gym project, a non-profit gym which serves to take at-risk youth off the street with the appeal and focus of MMA. With his new position in ONE, Ahmad believes he will be better positioned to develop MMA in Asia, particularly in his hometown Pakistan.
“I think it’s a win-win. I’ve learned about developing MMA in a really difficult market – Pakistan, and I bring that experience with me.”
“On the flip side, I get work with one of the world’s most professional martial arts brands and bring those lessons to my mission in Pakistan.”
4-3 on his professional MMA career, Ahmad has been fighting for ONE Championship since April 2013 and became the first ONE Championship athlete to make the transition from into the management role in the promotion. Despite this additional role, Ahmad is adamant that his new role in ONE Championship does not take him away from active competition.
“100% not retired. I can certainly train. If Martin can beat Gafurov while being a full-time mechanic, I can certainly train when I work in the MMA industry for a living. It’s about time management and training smart.”
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