Just 10 years since its formation, ONE Championship has spent much of the past few years diving head-first into the United States market. The Asia-based organization splashed onto the scene with its historic swap, sending Ben Askren to the UFC while pulling the legendary Demetrious Johnson into its flyweight division. It then hosted its first live events on TNT, beginning with ONE Century back in October 2019.
But now, on the heels of being ranked among the top-10 global sports properties in terms of engagement and viewership, CEO Chatri Sityodtong, vice president Rich Franklin, and ONE Championship’s slew of world champs are drawing a line in the sand against the UFC’s best.
— ONE Championship (@ONEChampionship) May 23, 2021
“From an executive standpoint, when you look at what’s been going on with a lot of these ‘specialty fights,’ circus fights, whatever you want to call them with,” Franklin told Uproxx Sports. “You know, the theme: Conor McGregor, Jake Paul, and then obviously Mayweather just fought Logan Paul. It’s something that you’ve never seen before. I think the closest thing to it would be when the UFC allowed Chuck Liddell in Pride and that’s about the closest thing that’s ever been done to this. So I think if something like this was done, you would see a ton of interest.”
The recent run on TNT has only increased any potential interest in a UFC/ONE Championship crossover, with former UFC fighters Demetrious Johnson, Eddie Alvarez, and Sage Northcutt all suffering losses within the past two years. To Franklin, that’s proven ONE’s fighters can stand with the best of them.
“I think our run on TNT really showed the American audience or the international audience for that matter, that there’s always been some speculation about whether or not ONE championship athletes are on the level,” he says. “So I think that the fans now understand that ONE has some tough, tough guys and, you know, there’s, I mean, there’s a couple of match-ups that I would get, I would love to see, uh, as a fan, I think. One or two that come to mind, maybe like there’s like, uh, Charles Olivera versus Christian Lee. But you could make matchups for days just with champion vs. champions.”
There’s some extra motivation for a slew of fighters like Johnson, Alvarez, and current heavyweight champion Arjan Bhullar, who wants some of the UFC’s current best.
“I want to get Stipe [Miocic],” Arjan Bhullar told Uproxx Sports in early June. “There’s some history with my guy [Daniel Cormier] that I’d like to exact some revenge. He’s supposed to be the heavyweight GOAT, so I would love that. I was a part of every one of those camps with DC and I didn’t want to see him go out (with a loss).”
For now, Franklin and ONE Championship wants continue its rise in the MMA world by churning out quality fights and turning its attention to hosting the first live event on U.S. soil sometime in 2021.
“As a company, we’ve always had our eye on U.S. territory as a priority market,” Franklin said. “We’ve always been focused on the Asian side of things. There’s a lot of challenges to making the jump across the Pacific, logistics, man power, etc. We had a great run on TNT. And it seems like the natural time to make the transition to this side.”