Any debut on the global stage is a historic moment, even if it doesn’t happen in the Circle.
When Mitch “The Dragon” Chilson stepped into the ONE Championship commentary booth for the first time, the emotions were just as strong as when he was a competitor.
The Japanese-American competed inside the Circle five times, but on 13 March 2015, he started his new role as a commentator in the world’s largest martial arts organization at ONE: AGE OF CHAMPIONS in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
“I’m looking back at the photo now, and it feels like such a long time ago. Five years I’ve been doing this thing,” Chilson reminisces.
“It felt remarkably like competing. The entire thing [felt like it] — the build-up to the show, the rehearsals, and the media that we did. It really felt like I was getting these tiny little blips of what it was like to compete.
“You go through the same sort of anticipation, and when that opening ceremony hits and you start to feel that thunder through your soul, it just lights you up. So, it actually feels like you’re competing when you’re getting ready to commentate the show.”
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This time, however, he did get to have something of a dress rehearsal, which is a luxury he would not have had if he was strapping on the four-ounce mixed martial arts gloves.
As part of his new role, Chilson was the master of ceremonies for the public weigh-ins the day before the big show at the Axiata Arena — then known as the Putra Indoor Stadium — and he thinks that was a blessing in disguise.
“I remember being incredibly nervous at the weigh-in. I think that I got all my hiccups and stumbling out of the way because I did so bad. I felt that maybe it couldn’t get any worse at the show,” he jokes.
“It gave me a warm-up for the big event. I knew I could still say something stupid or mess something up, but I remember feeling like the worst was behind me.
“Then I remember feeling really excited about the opportunity to make some special moments for the athletes who had trained their entire lives for this.”
The most important thing for Chilson was his chance to offer an athlete’s perspective, and he planned to do them justice with his commentary.
He feels like that was – and still is – his unique selling point as a color commentator, and from day one, he wanted to relay to the global fanbase just how incredible it is for any competitor to step into the Circle.
“It was really exciting for me to first be able to be the voice for these athletes because I knew what it was like to be on the other end,” states the 42-year-old, who now resides in Manila, Philippines.
“When you’re commentating, you’re trying to make these lifelong martial artists look as great and as strategic as possible.
“That was the opportunity I was given, and what I really try to make the most of every time I commentate – even that first time.”
However, as crucial as that night was to the future of his career, “The Dragon” struggles to remember the actual event with clarity because he was so engrossed in the moment.
“It’s weird because you know when you’re grappling with somebody and you’re in the zone, or if you’ve ever had a basketball game or a tennis match and you just fell into your flow. That’s kind of what I feel like on event nights,” he continues.
“I rarely remember anything I say until I hear it back on the highlights later because I truly enjoy doing commentary so much that time just flies by. It’s like I’m not even thinking about it.
“I remember on that first night, it was one of those moments where time stood still and then, all of a sudden, it was the end of the night. I was like, ‘Wow, it’s six hours later!’ It was so much fun, and I just really enjoyed helping people’s stars shine.”
Chilson has since become one of the most recognizable faces in the organization, and certainly one of the two most recognizable voices, alongside play-by-play commentator Michael “The Voice” Schiavello.
The Japanese-American’s passion for his job bursts through to the millions of fans who watch around the world, and even five years later, he admits he is still a victim to his excitement because he cares so much about representing the athletes well.
He has more polish and more experience, but just the same enthusiasm. “The Dragon” of today never wants to lose that, but he would have some words of wisdom for the man that sat in the commentary booth for the first time in 2015.
“I would just say, ‘Don’t rush, and don’t feel like you have to get everything out. Just relax, stay within yourself, and just try to communicate your thoughts as clearly as possible,’” Chilson offers.
“I still have this problem sometimes where I get so excited, I try to get everything out at one time, and it comes out rambled. So, I would say, ‘Calm down and enjoy the moment. You don’t know how long this dream job is going to last, so just have as much fun as you can.’”