On Aug. 26, global mixed martial arts promotion ONE Championship returns to US airwaves with a flyweight title rematch between Adriano Moraes and Demetrious Johnson at 9 p.m. ET on Aug. 26 as the first of five primetime events this year airing on Amazon Prime Video to kick off a new five-year media rights agreement across the United States and Canada.
While North American fans of MMA, kickboxing, Muay Thai, grappling and other martial arts disciplines will revel in seeing the world’s largest martial arts organization on their television screens again during primetime—albeit from across the world—they will have to wait until 2023 for the chance to attend a ONE Championship live event on US soil.
Originally aiming for its first proper US-based event in October — it has previously held several regional events co-promoted with Arizona-based RUF Nation branded as “Road to ONE” — the current geopolitical landscape and ongoing global battle against the COVID-19 pandemic pushed back ONE’s plans until after the new year.
“The US is a priority market for us, obviously,” ONE Championship Vice President Rich Franklin tells Boardroom. “We won’t be on the ground in the US this year, but as a company, we understand that if we want to be successful in the US, that’s not a business model that produces the end outcome that we want, so we’ll have to do shows here. We’re looking at 2023 at this point in time for being on the ground.”
Based in Singapore, ONE Championship features athletes from 80 countries competing across a multitude of martial arts disciplines. Offering a variety of styles and disciplines under one umbrella, ONE Championship’s mass appeal propelled the company a top-five global sports property as it relates to viewership and engagement according to Nielsen, with more than 13.8 billion video views in 2021 across YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and TikTok—second only to the NBA.
Currently broadcast in more than 150 countries around the world, ONE Championship announced its multi-year partnership with Prime Video in April, bringing 12 live martial arts events annually.
The significance of the deal, and its importance to grow the brand in the US, isn’t lost on Franklin, a former UFC middleweight champion and 2019 UFC Hall of Fame inductee.
“This will be the primary way that we have visibility in the US,” he says. “This is a great way to expose the product to a side of the world we’re still nuanced at this point in time. This is a game changer.”
The rest of the ONE of Prime Video schedule for 2022 includes events on Sept. 30, Oct. 21, Nov. 18, and Dec. 2—the lead card begins at 9 p.m. ET with the main card starting at approximately 10 p.m. ET. And while broadcasting live events in primetime will certainly buoy North American interest, nothing compares to attending one in person.
“If you’ve ever been to an event, especially pre-COVID, it’s like attending a rock concert and martial arts event simultaneously,” Franklin says, “so the entertainment value of the live event is something that stands out.”
Not rushing to put on an event in the US by the end of the year also gives ONE Championship founder and CEO Chatri Sityodtong and the company more time to strategically plan their arrival, much of which is dependent on which state(s) approve their rules set, with a major differential being permitting knees to grounded opponents.
In July, Colorado’s Office of Combative Sports was the first US state to approve ONE’s rules, which notably differ with respect to hydration and weight-cutting protocols, fight week CT scans, and differing judging/scoring criteria compared to the unified rules of the Association of Boxing Commissions that most North American MMA promotions use.
Franklin says ONE Championship has also been in discussion with other states including Georgia and Louisiana about potentially hosting events.
“We have several different options that we can host an event in different states in the US for ’23,” he says.
The organization also has its sights set on expanding its presence in the Middle East. On June 22, ONE Championship parent company Group ONE Holdings and Media City Qatar announced a strategic long-term partnership collaborating in the production and development of a wide range of global content in Qatar across multiple media sectors including original programming, studio shows, and esports.
When and where ONE Championship will make its US debut is still to be determined, but one thing is for sure: it’s coming.
“I personally believe it’s crucial to the business model,” Franklin says. “You can see this in other sports across the globe. The NFL does their European tour where they have several games in the UK and other locations in Europe, and you see the value in what live sport means to a location. We understand internally we can’t continue broadcasting from Singapore.”