ONE FC: Potential to Change the Whole Game


One Fighting Championship of Singapore has issued a press release regarding a mutual agreement with DREAM of Japan:

...ONE Fighting Championship and DREAM have agreed to co-promote events together and have also agreed to fighter exchanges. Fighter exchanges are expected to happen with immediate effect. It means that any ONE FC fighter will automatically be eligible to compete on DREAM and any DREAM fighter will automatically be eligible to compete on ONE FC. In addition, the first co-promotion is tentatively scheduled for March 31 at the Singapore Indoor Stadium in the name of “ONE FC / DREAM in Singapore,” ...

And DREAM of Japan has: released a corresponding statement:
これは日本及びシンガポールをはじめ、アジアのMMAにとって記念碑的な発展の一つとなるでしょう。この提携関係の中で、DREAMとONE FCは将来のイベントの共催及び選手の交換を行っていくことに合意しました。『DREAM/ONE FC in Singapore』やONE FCの日本大会などのイベント開催や、選手の交換に関してはすぐにその成果が見られると期待されています。これは、全てのDREAMの選手がONE FCへ出場し、また全てのONE FCの選手がDREAMへ出場する可能性があることを意味しています。

Swift on the heels of ONE FC’s guerrilla tactics press on recent strategic partnerships with Asian MMA promotions, ending with this bunker bomb of a mutually exclusive partnership with DREAM, the question remains: what's the big deal?

With the bold font-intended words “effective immediately” ONE FC announced that this partnership means that all ONE FC fighters are eligible to fight in DREAM, and vice versa.  A co-promotion to be held in Singapore is being planned for as early as March 31st, an extremely ambitious undertaking between a newcomer with great technique and a veteran heavy hitter.  ONE FC must have some serious broadcast deals in their pocket to capture the stalwart’s interest and cooperation.


However, the ONE FC network does not consist solely of itself and DREAM.  “Effective immediately” is DREAM fighter Shungo Oyama meeting Denis Kang at the upcoming December 3rd ROAD FC 5 event in Seoul, South Korea.  ROAD FC became part of the first promotion network announced by ONE FC in October, along with Thailand’s DARE, Australia’s CFC and the Philippines’ URCC.  Going beyond an agreement to allow fighters to keep titles or contracts with their current promotions while fighting in others, ONE FC contacted and signed agreements with those fighters’ teams directly, all the way from the Philippines to Pakistan.

Until an actual fight schedule was announced and the DREAM partnership revealed, ONE FC’s mad scramble across Asia for MMA assets seemed both exciting and confusing.  In the October press release, CEO Victor Cui clarified the intent of all these partnerships: to unify MMA in Asia by providing access to more events for fighters to gain invaluable experience, to give sponsors a wider platform, and to put on more and higher-quality shows for fans.  It seems to be a model based upon savvy and aggressive business principles while keeping the integrity of the sport and livelihood of the athletes in mind.

The Fighters

Eduard Folayang tags Kwon A Sol
To see the ONE FC network’s partnership with DREAM from a fighter’s perspective is breath-taking in the opportunities it affords.  DREAM fighters can now escape the confines of the islands and grow their hardcore JMMA fanbase all over Asia in person, hopefully under a new business model that assures financial stability.  Fighters from all over Asia are salivating over the possibility of competing against arguably the best and definitely the most battle-hardened fighters currently in Asia – those in DREAM.  While most MMA athletes chant “UFC” when speaking about their ultimate goals, stepping into a ring that was constructed from the ashes of PRIDE and fighting in front of the longest and most educated MMA audience in the world would indeed be a dream come true.  ONE FC has just made that a reality.

ONE True Champion?

MMA promotions have historically been successful as business entities, not sporting organizations.  Smaller promotions find a niche and crown their own champions.  Larger organizations eat the smaller ones when they want those top fighters.  MMA competition hasn’t been organized or unified internationally except under FILA, an independent and formal organization that oversees and promotes wrestling-based combat sports.  MMA professional fighters are by nature prize fighters; a promoter’s title belt is evidence of superior ability within a limited number of hand-picked participants.  By nature, the two concepts are diametrically opposed. 

With the network of fighters, gyms and promotions it is developing, ONE FC looks to be the entity that actually might evolve MMA competition into a unified and organized combat sport.  While creating partnerships with established promotions is great leverage for the freshly minted ONE FC’s own roster, it is serving as the genesis for this change.  Before the DREAM co-promotion was announced, ROAD FC had already stated it would organize an event to pit its champions against the champions of ONE FC later in 2012.  ONE FC’s partnership with URCC allowed its champions Eduard Folayang and Eric Kelly to sign and fight in the inaugural event without vacating their titles in the Philippines.


Of course ONE FC didn’t invent this method of promotional partnerships.  DREAM has attempted it before: with US-based EliteXC (now defunct) and Strikeforce (now owned by Zuffa), and currently has a working partnership with M-1.  However, ONE FC’s oft hinted-at broadcast capabilities and oft Facebook-‘shared’ networking schemes present a real possibility for making MMA a global phenomenon with legitimate international champions. 

Rules of the Game

Rules and regulations differ across promotions.  While a few in Asia are recognized and accredited by their national governments (URCC in the Philippines and RUFF in China), most are self-regulating.  Since MMA is now lurching into the limelight here, fighter safety and sport integrity are of utmost importance to grow in a positive direction.  ONE FC was quite hip to this, and that ensuring it requires a staff of officials who are educated and proficient, especially when incorporating a high-profile broadcast.  ONE FC accomplished its mission by signing on Matt Hume to be its Head Referee, a coup that didn’t go unnoticed by press and fans.

Even though it is aiming to produce a champion of champions, ONE FC may not have the need or desire to affect a change to a set of more unified rules across its spectrum of MMA promotions right now.  However, if fighters are going to be given the chance to be a legitimate international champion, that legitimacy must be backed up by legitimate officiating.  ONE FC is in an influential position to require regulation in regards to the issues of safety and integrity of its partnerships.  Even if not unifying rules, unifying a code of ethics and standards in officiating would be a monumental leap forward for MMA in Asia.

TKO  

Japanese MMA competition - irregardless of scandalous developments and problematic leadership - is a deep and substantiated sport.  To expand this sport internationally, steps must be taken to merge spectator-oriented events with open participant-based competition.  Though stand-alone promotions traditionally see no benefit to this when approaching their demographic, ONE FC is in a prime position to change that.   Victor Cui got his MMA feet wet promoting Martial Combat’s 12 events.  He just parted the sea to Tokyo.  If he accomplishes his grand plan of MMA unification in Asia, this hard-hitting CEO of ONE FC will have proven he can walk on water.

Eduard Folayang with CEO Victor Cui

5 comments:

  1. Very good article. Probably the best I have read on the significance of what ONEFC is doing with MMA in Asia. As the founder of PAKMMA and head coach of Team Shaheen based out of Synergy MMA in Lahore (http://www.club-synergy.com) I have to say that it's jaw dropping to see these opportunities fall before us. Thanks Victor Cui and ONEFC!!

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  2. Thank you for the compliment on the content, sir. What you have started with PAKMMA is equally impressive and to be commended. Together we can make this wonderful sport hugely successful!

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  3. A great article Lee Li.
    Let's all hope it happens just the way we all want.
    IF ONE FC could produce fighters that can hold their own in the UFC then it will have succeeded in raising the level of MMA in Asia.
    Then nobody can accuse this of being a lesser organisation, It has to become something more than a retirement home for has beens like Phil Baroni. I understand why he was brought in. But, hopefully in the future it will be present day fighters coming into ONE FC not yesterdays men.
    Over to you Victor Cui, your hopes are our hopes.

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  4. Thank you, Alan. A cross-promotion platform does offer more opportunities for home-grown MMA athletes to test themselves against a wider array of opponents. It will be fantastic to see it happen.

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  5. Sir Henry KobayashiDecember 1, 2011 at 8:40 AM

    Great article. I hope these will materialized so we have our own MMA Champion in Asia that would be at par with Champions in UFC.

    Victor Cui... almost all MMA Artist here in Asia have the same vision as yours.

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