Every martial artist dreams about entering the cage, competing for billions of fans across the globe, and solidifying their legacy by capturing a prestigious world title.
However, that’s not where their stories have to end after a long and admirable competitive career. In fact, more and more ex-athletes are beginning to find new life in their martial arts journeys as ONE executives.
Over the past several months, ONE has been affording recently-retired competitors the opportunity to continue their careers in administrative roles within the company.
“There are so many world-class martial artists who continuously display their elite talent in ONE Championship, but there comes a point in every athlete’s career where they think about life beyond the cage, and their life after retiring from active competition,” explains Victor Cui, CEO International of ONE Championship.
“But their martial arts journeys do not have to end when they decide to retire from the cage. These are warriors who have incredible life experience and knowledge, which is something we really respect and value, being the Home of Martial Arts.
“That is why it is important, both as a company and a martial arts community, to continue fostering the talents of our athletes following their post-competition careers, and help to prolong and extend their martial arts legacies by offering a future beyond the cage. In these executive roles, they can help to ignite a new generation of heroes and fans, and continue to spread martial arts across the world.”
In fact, the organization has traditionally employed some of the best ex-athletes in the world.
For instance, former Middleweight World Champion and American martial arts legend Rich “Ace” Franklin joined the company in May 2014 as its Vice President. He has provided constant analysis on ONE’s television broadcasts, conducted seminars throughout Asia, and is currently the face of the company’s first-ever original documentary program, “Rich Franklin’s ONE Warrior Series.”
Aside from Franklin, China martial arts pioneer Vaughn “Blud” Anderson has been serving as Manager of China Competition, helping to scout talent throughout the immense country, and assisting with their transition onto the global stage.
Also, there is Matt “The Wizard” Hume, Vice President of Operations & Competition, and the longest tenured ex-athlete in the company. Besides being a lifelong martial artist who competed to great success in the early 90s, Hume is also the head coach for multiple world champions, the founder and owner of AMC Kickboxing And Pankration in Washington, and has been an integral part of several leading promotions.
Hume has been with ONE ever since its inception in September 2011. He started as the Chief Official and Head Referee, before settling into his current role in August 2012 as the Vice President of Operations & Competition.
In recent years, Hume’s role has evolved, and continues to do so as the company grows. A small sample of his responsibilities includes leading the matchmaking efforts for the organization’s action-packed events, signing the best new talent, managing standards in rules and regulations, as well as overseeing a dedicated staff that manages ONE’s many world-class live events, global broadcast, talents, and officials.
That staff is now beginning to include homegrown talents who have competed inside the ONE cage, and are adding a new dimension to the company.
“The former ONE athletes I have hired at ONE are bright, talented, charismatic, respected, and totally connected to the martial arts world. They are capable of helping the athletes, and grow the industry in greater ways than just offering a bout contract,” Hume states.
“This not only benefits the growth of ONE, but also inspires current and future athletes in ONE to know their loyalty and dedication can pay off in a future career beyond their competitive days. Many of the top martial artists are turning to ONE, due to the mutual respect and opportunity that ONE affords them.
“Being able to give back to these athletes and allow them to continue to utilize their talents in other capacities within ONE is a win/win and benefits everyone.”
One of those former athletes is Bashir Ahmad. Considered “the Godfather of Martial Arts in Pakistan,” Ahmad opened the country’s first gym, Synergy Fitness & MMA Club, in Lahore, and co-founded PAKMMA.
He made his professional cage debut in April 2012, joined ONE a year later, and after a thrilling career, retired from active competition with a victory over Egypt’s Mahmoud Mohamed in October 2016.
In the middle of 2017, Ahmad’s career took an interesting turn when he was offered the position of Senior Manager of Industry Partnerships, which he gladly accepted.
Some of his many responsibilities include negotiating contracts, signing athletes, managing their transition into the organization, and ensuring each event runs safely and smoothly in accordance to the company’s standards.
Nearly six months into his role, Ahmad compares the experience to “getting a Master’s degree or a PHD,” but is also quick to stress the importance of bringing former athletes onto the executive team.
“It is natural that athletes will feel more comfortable with those who have been in their shoes. It is also important to hire people who are on the front lines of Asian martial arts. It is still not a very big community, and it is important to know who is who, and have some level of relationships with them,” says Ahmad, who hopes to inspire his fellow athletes.
“I want to inspire them to continue using whatever fire it was that got them in martial arts to other things in life, when their time for competition is done. I also want to continue to train and develop in martial arts to show that the martial arts journey is not confined to the time you are competing, but for one’s entire lifetime.”
Ahmad may have been the first ONE athlete to make the jump from the cage to the boardroom as a company executive, but as ONE Championship’s Chairman and CEO Chatri Sityodtong previously stated on his Facebook page, he intends “to hire many more ONE athletes after they retire. It is the circle of life. It is the warrior’s way.”
Sityodtong, as always, is a man of his word.
Following the hire of Ahmad, Malaysia women’s martial arts pioneer Ann “Athena” Osman joined the executive team in November, and it was also announced that undefeated ONE Welterweight World Champion Ben Askren would be assuming a role with the organization after his retirement.
As ONE continues to break into new territories, strengthen their presence in major cities, and further grow and cultivate martial arts in Asia, there will undoubtedly be more opportunities for the organization’s ex-athletes to prolong and extend their martial arts journeys, should they continue to take that road.
Like Franklin says: “ONE Championship is committed to placing athletes in a working role whenever possible. Our athletes know they have a possible post-competition career path, and our organization benefits from from the athletes who know the market best in each region.”