MMA promotions come, MMA promotions get mocked on Twitter, MMA promotions go. It's the nature of the beast it seems.
Finding a foothold is difficult when you're scaling a monolith like the UFC. Hardcore fans know the list of fallen victims like the back of their collective hand.
But out in Asia, where this martial arts stuff was conceived, there is a little promotion that's kicking along quite nicely, thank you very much.
Sure, ONE Fighting Championship will never be confused for the UFC. But you know what? That's OK. ONE FC will have 11 events under its belt before the year is out. The promotion does a good job of building relationships and attracting an interesting blend of veteran and emerging MMA fighters and standouts from sister sports like Muay Thai. The promotion is media-savvy, and puts on a clean, professional production at a reasonable price.
New to ONE FC? Looking to get a toe in the water? With events coming up in September and October, there's no time like the present. Here are five reasons to pay attention to the new gold standard in Asian MMA.
The UFC and pretty much every other promotion follows the Unified Rules of MMA. Not so for ONE FC.
ONE FC goes by what's known as the Global MMA Rule Set, and its guidelines harken directly and unapologetically back to Pride and the halcyon days of Asian MMA. The previous and confusing "open attack" rule is gone, replaced by a green light for knees to the head of a grounded opponent, soccer kicks to the head and other moves that get the hardcore set salivating. It's good times, man.
In celebration, let us enjoy this brief soccer kick highlight reel. It is truly a good and pleasant thing.
According to Sherdog's most recent world MMA rankings, Bibiano Fernandes is one of the planet's best bantamweights. He might be one of the best non-UFC fighters around. And he'll be back in action soon, attempting to unify his interim belt in October when he fights lineal champ Soo Chul Kim.
None of this is to mention Fernandes' fascinating back story, as recently chronicled by Bleacher Report's own Jonathan Snowden. But ONE FC's talent stocks don't end with Fernandes; he is one of several veteran standouts and rising stars of the sport currently on the roster.
The other big one, of course, is the promotion's lightweight champ, Shinya Aoki. And between these two, there's at least a theoretical chance that ONE FC could pull off a feat that has heretofore largely eluded Big Daddy Octagon. Fernandes said recently he is willing to meet Aoki at featherweight for a superfight. I believe I'd watch that.
So you like the old-school MMA, huh? Got a taste for throwback theatrics? Well, it doesn't get much more old-school or throwback theatrical than Lenne Hardt, the screaming voice behind those iconic Pride fighter intros. These days, she mans the mic for ONE FC events.
In other parts of the world, MMA is becoming a blended family of skills, almost a martial art unto itself. But there's still plenty of intrigue, for me anyway, when elite specialists come together to see what works best on a given night.
ONE FC features single-sport standouts like world Muay Thai champion Alain Ngalani, Egyptian boxer Mahmoud Hassan, Wushu prodigy Eduard Folayang and world grappling champions like Bruno Pucci and a one Mr. Gregor Gracie, to name just a few.
ONE FC's special brand of specialism is heightened by the roster's diversity. Though the promotion's fighters are 95 percent Asian, Asia's a pretty diverse place. National pride comes into play for many ONE FC fights, including September's bout pitting Indonesian Brianata Rosadhi against Malaysia's Raymond Tan.
You may not have heard of Victor Cui. But the ONE FC owner and CEO is a well-respected figure in the world of sports media and marketing on the world’s largest and most populous continent.
In other words, this ain’t no T-shirt salesman. His resume is long and impressive, as he's worked for the PGA Tour, the Singapore-based ESPN Star Sports, the Olympics, the X Games and more.
Cui's ability to attract fighters from Fernandes to Aoki to Andrei Arlovski mirrors his ability to attract partners on the business side. Thanks to Cui, ONE FC now has a long-term broadcast deal with ESPN Star and special relationships with other Asian promotions and fight camps. Not coincidentally, ONE FC has grown steadily, selling out progressively larger venues, signing new fighters and even venturing into women's MMA.
Make no mistake: The man knows what he's doing. Rooting for a promotion headed by someone like Cui is a little like rooting for a football team with a competent owner. A lot harder than you might think, and an invaluable security blanket when you have it. And it’s a great harbinger for the future of any organization.