Opinion: One Championship’s Move From Self-Governance Could Speed Growth
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On Sunday, Oct. 13, One Championship held its highly-anticipated One Century: Part 1 and One Century: Part 2 doubleheader events in Japan, despite inclement weather issues (as in, a super typhoon literally hit the country).
The two-event extravaganza kicked off with a card that saw Angela Lee avenge her loss to Xiong Jing Nan and defend her strawweight belt, as well as Demetrious Johnson beat Danny Kingad to win the One Flyweight Grand Prix. Later on, One Century: Part 2 saw Bibiano Fernandes defend his bantamweight championship against Kevin Belingon in the pair’s fourth matchup, Giorgio Petrosyan win the One Featherweight Kickboxing Grand Prix and Aung La Sang finish heavyweight champion Brandon Vera by TKO to defend the One 205-pound title. It was the first time the promotion held two full cards on the same day, and for the most part provided enough action to live up to the hype surrounding the organization’s centennial event.
It was also the first time in while that One Championships was behind a paywall for viewers in the United States. One Century: Part 1 was broadcast through cable network TNT, and One Century: Part 2 was available through B/R Live’s subscription service, which costs $9.99 per month. Previous One events had been free through the promotion’s app so long as you had a registered B/R Live account, and no announcement was made by the company about the switch, though One CEO Chatri Sityodtong did confirm the change, stating it would not apply to all future cards. While we don’t know how many people subscribed to B/R Live just to watch Part 2, we do know that Part 1 averaged around 264,00 viewers, beating both Bellator MMA and Professional Fighters League in a jam-packed weekend of MMA.
Although it was a win for One Championship, one of the events was not without some controversy. During the main event between Jingnan Xiong and Anglea Lee, Lee performed a suplex on Nan, which helped “Unstoppable” get into a position to finish the fight. Several matches have been overturned in the promotion due to the use of a suplex, including an instance that involved the atomweight champion’s brother, Christian Lee, and in a Facebook post that has since been deleted, One CEO Chatri Sityodtong states that “At One Championship, all variations of suplexes are illegal and any attempt or intent results in an automatic disqualification.” According to Sityodtong in the post-fight press conference, however, whether or not the suplex Lee performed on Nan was illegal would depend on whether or not Nan landed on her head or shoulder, and as noted by those in attendance, the rules listed in the programs handed out at the One: Century event specified that all takedowns were legal so long as they didn’t result in spiking or a pile driver to the head or neck.
While many weren’t necessarily against the rule change in principle, the switch was made with virtually no transparency to the fans or media. As One has not published a defined rule set for public consumption, some speculated that this had always been the rule and Sityodtong had erred in his earlier explanation of how suplexes worked within the promotion.
It certainly wouldn’t be the first time One has made controversial decisions regarding their rules. In May of this year, the promotion decided that a tightly-contested kickboxing bout between Petrosyan and Petchmorrakot Petchyindee would be overturned from a decision loss for Petrosyan to a no contest, after “an official review” declared the referee “did not adequately control illegal clinching,” resulting in several rule violations. In July of 2018, the One Competition Committee overturned a bout between Ma Jia Wen and Sagetdao Petpayathai at “ONE Championship 75: Spirit of a Warrior” after cageside judges reviewed “the standards of One Championship judging criteria” and felt that Wen won the match instead of Petpayathai, who was originally awarded the victory in the cage.
These reviews and contentious rulings stem from the fact that One Championship acts as its own governing body. Unlike U.S. promotions, the One Competition Committee is the administrative authority on reviewing fights, selecting judges and creating the rules in One Championship. With members of the committee including Matt Hume, who has ties to One athletes Demetrious Johnson and bantamweight champion Bibiano Fernandes, it's easy to see why there are those who may question the committee’s objectivity when it comes to handing down verdicts.
The choice of self-governance will make for fascinating strategic business plans. In June of this year, Sityodtong stated that while Asian markets will continue to be the main focus of the promotion, he has ambitions of beginning expansion into the North American market. While that’s certainly not a bad idea, there may be issues getting a license within the states to hold an event unless the promotion is willing to give up regulatory control to an outside agency. Should the company decide to allow an objective body oversee its events abroad, it will not be able to overturn decisions that the committee takes issue with.
So long as One is its own governing body, there will always be speculation as to how some decisions are made. From overturning fights to changing rules, the objectivity of such choices will come under scrutiny by fans without, at the very least, more transparency into the process. With the implementation of live hydration testing and weigh-ins being rolled out recently it’s very possible the promotion’s next step will be giving the regulatory reins to another group, but until that time comes One may find itself limited to its current market share by its own design.