ONE Championship garnered attention from American MMA fans after its high-profile signings of former UFC champions Demetrious Johnson, Eddie Alvarez and Vitor Belfort. Now the Singapore-based promotion is taking its expansion into the United States market to the next level.
ONE founder and CEO Chatri Sityodtong told B/R Live they plan to host an event in the U.S., potentially in New York, toward the end of 2020.
"It's a fresh new brand of excitement, entertainment and positive energy that I think America as a country needs," Sityodtong said. "There's a huge opportunity for ONE Championship."
This is the latest indication of ONE's plans to expand into other markets, having dominated the Asian martial arts market for the better part of a decade. Sityodtong, who founded the company in 2011, says the company has offices in New York and Los Angeles opening within the next few weeks.
The Thai cites ONE's partnership with Turner Sports, which began last January, as the main catalyst for its plans to host a live event in the States.
"It's the first time in history that a major U.S. broadcaster paid media rights for an Asian sports property," Sityodtong said. "Normally it's the other way around. When the reverse had happened and Turner wanted to partner with ONE, we had many high-level discussions, and even with minimal marketing our numbers have continued to improve event after event stateside."
Sityodtong says ONE is looking to host an event in New York, potentially in Madison Square Garden. If that happens, ONE would join the ranks of popular U.S. promotions UFC and Bellator, which have hosted events in the legendary arena before.
"The American market is a very sophisticated and complex one," Sityodtong said. "We really have to come in with a loud bang and not just come in on a small scale. If we're going to do it, we're going to do it right."
Before that day, though, ONE wants to grow its roster to include more notable names like Johnson, Alvarez and Belfort who are familiar to an American audience. Although Sityodtong didn't go into specifics on who they're going after in free agency and which athletes have shown mutual interest, he's promising big names.
"I definitely want to beef up our American roster with global superstars prior to coming to the U.S.," Sityodtong said. "All I will say is that some of the biggest global stars have reached out to us already, are looking forward to free agency, and once they hit free agency, then we will talk to them seriously. The pipeline of incoming interest from athletes all over the world, regardless of martial art, is at an all-time high. I think you'll see some huge announcements from us over the next year."
Sityodtong recently spoke to Sherdog on the release of former UFC women's featherweight champion Cris Cyborg, stating that she's the "greatest female martial artist in history." However, he did not comment on whether ONE plans to make Cyborg an offer.
According to her social media, the Brazilian says she is a frequent viewer of ONE events. A high-profile free-agent signing of Cyborg's caliber would be the first of its kind for ONE's women's division.
As for current ONE athletes familiar to a U.S. audience, Alvarez is coming off a win against former lightweight champion Eduard Folayang at the start of August after losing his debut match to Timofey Nastyukhin in March.
The Underground King returns to the ONE cage on Oct. 13 in Tokyo to face Dagi Arslanaliev in the lightweight world grand prix final. The winner becomes the No. 1 contender to the belt currently held by Christian Lee.
Johnson is coming off two flyweight world grand prix victories against Yuya Wakamatsu and Tatsumitsu Wada, respectively. He faces Danny Kingad in the final on the Oct. 13 card in hopes of becoming the top contender to Adriano Moraes' title.
Johnson said he is thrilled at the idea of hosting an event in the U.S., a card he would likely feature on.
"I'm very excited," Johnson said. "It would be awesome to fight on that side of the world again. I've never fought in New York before. It's a big opportunity. Chatri will come here and blow it out the water."
Johnson is already playing the role of booker for his dream card stateside.
"Hopefully Chatri can get guys like Rodtang Jitmuangnon on that card. Also, get some good kickboxing on there too and hopefully within a year we acquire some more North American talent to strengthen that card. You definitely have to put Eddie [Alvarez] on it as well."
Although ONE is in the midst of a big accomplishment even after its cemented legacy in Asia, Sityodtong says the success all came down to timing.
"I'll be honest, we got very lucky. I always say that it is the easiest time in history to create a global brand because of the connectivity. It's also the hardest time in history if you're the incumbent brand to defend turf because there's so much innovation, creativity and connectivity that if they aren't smart about technology, content, community and commerce, they're just going to get blown away. All these young companies are innovative, creative and cutting edge like ONE Championship has been in the last few years. If we were born 10 or 20 years earlier, it would've been a very different story."
Sityodtong says the growing interest in the brand, as well as the production value of the events—which have been praised by the likes of Joe Rogan and Eddie Bravo—leave fans in the U.S. who have likely never been to a ONE show in for a treat. The next year will be crucial for the promotion to raise awareness among American fans in an already saturated martial arts market.