Chatri Sityodtong wants you to know there’s an alternative in the combat sports world. With the American fighting scene dominated by mixed martial arts, boxing, and professional wrestling, a new show in town needs to disrupt the market in order to plant its flag in the ground. Sityodtong, the founder and CEO of ONE Championship is confident his promotions’ expedition into America will be just that. ONE’s first event in the United States takes place Friday night in Denver. Tickets to attend the event are sold out, but the show will be available on Prime Video. And Sityodtong’s bet is that ONE Fight Night 10 is just the beginning for the Asian promotion in the U.S.
As the UFC is MMA’s leader in North America, longtime fans of Dana White’s baby should recognize two fighters on ONE’s U.S. card, most notably Demetrious Johnson. Sityodtong recently told Deadspin that the flyweight championship bout between Johnson and Adriano Moraes is likely the last fight of Johnson’s Hall of Fame career. Second is Sage Northcutt, who will fight for the first time in nearly four years after a May 2019 knockout loss to Cosmo Alexandre resulted in eight facial fractures that needed immediate surgery to repair. With submission grappling and Muay Thai bouts also on the card, in addition to seven MMA fights, Sityodtong hopes casual combat-sports fans check out ONE for the names they know, but also get hooked by the ones they don’t.
“I think what’s going to keep American fans is they’re going to see an entirely different product that they’ve never seen before here in America,” Sityodtong told Deadspin recently about ONE growing its fan base. “... Whether it’s the highest level martial artists on the planet, across Muay Thai and submission grappling and the like, it’s just a very different experience, whether you’re a fan watching from home or in the stadium. And I know of course, combat sports is huge in America now. There’s just nothing like it here in America. We’re bringing the entire world of martial arts to America as the home of martial arts.”
Fans of UFC may recognize ONE for the organizations’ “trade” between Johnson and Ben Askren in 2018. Johnson and Askren were both intentionally released from contracts to sign with their competitors, with Johnson losing his UFC Flyweight Championship months before after a six-year reign. Johnson is 4-1 in ONE’s flyweight division, his only loss coming to Moraes in April 2021, which he avenged in August 2022. Both flyweight title fights ended with knees to the face. The rubber match headlines ONE’s first U.S. show and can be seen the same way you watch Thursday Night Football.
“This is not like an experiment. This is the very beginning of our American expansion,” Sityodtong told Deadspin. “In January, when we announced the event, where we had the ticket link and a couple fights we announced, within a week and a half, 70 percent of tickets sold out. And then several weeks ago, the event completely sold out. And I’m kicking myself because I should have chosen a 20,000(-seat) stadium instead of a 7000-seater. But before our first foray into the USA, I wanted to be conservative. And it’s better to sell out and have excess demand as we build the brand and the product here in the U.S.”