The ongoing worldwide coronavirus crisis means ONE Championship has put the safety of its athletes and fans first this weekend for ONE: KING OF THE JUNGLE.
However, The Home Of Martial Arts is committed to continuing with its mission to inspire the world with its world-class competitors, so the show will go on as a closed-arena event at the Singapore Indoor Stadium this Friday, 28 February, so the world will still get to enjoy a stacked, 11-match card.
It is sure to be an unusual experience for some of the athletes, who will not have the roar of the crowd behind them when they compete, but the situation will not stop them from going into battle in the Circle with the same intensity as usual.
“My heart goes out to all the people that are affected by it, but I really appreciate the fact that we’re going on with the event,” says Janet “JT” Todd, who will face Stamp Fairtex in the main event.
“Granted, it’s closed-doors, but I really appreciate Chatri (Sityodtong, ONE Chairman and CEO) going through with this because as athletes, we train our butts off for this moment.
“I don’t think [it will affect me]. As an amateur, I fought in empty stadiums before and no one cheered my name,” she adds with a laugh.
“I’m always laser-focused whether there is a crowd or not. I mean, I appreciate the energy of the crowd, I always love it, but we’re focused on the fight. That’s what we’re here for – to give a good performance – and that’s what I’m looking forward to.”
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“It’s definitely unfortunate, but it’s still the same goal, same title, same everything,” says Rocky Ogden, who will meet Sam-A Gaiyanghadao for the inaugural ONE Strawweight Muay Thai World Title in the co-headline match.
“If we can stay positive, everyone’s got to stay positive as well, everyone’s still going to put their heart on [the line] and get in there and fight as hard as they can.
“So, tune in. You don’t want to miss this show, there’s a lot of great fights and we’re going to put a show on for you guys.”
Some athletes like Shannon “OneShin” Wiratchai admit they were disappointed about the news at first, but once they put things into perspective, they looked on the bright side.
“This is the first time that I will go down to featherweight and also the first time I will fight in the closed stadium,” says the Thai star.
“At first, when I heard that I felt annoyed because every fighter wants to fight in front of people, but since then, I realized the situation now affects the whole world, not only Singapore or China.
“I am coming to fight and will be live to 150 countries around the world. I think it might help the people in some cities who have to stay in their places for a month to be happy. They can not go out and they might want some entertainment. I am an athlete and an entertainer. I am happy to do that.”
Denice “The Menace Fairtex” Zamboanga adds that she is grateful for the chance to still be able to compete.
If the event was canceled, weeks of intense training would have come to nothing and she would have been left waiting for another chance to face Mei “V.V.” Yamaguchi in their pivotal women’s atomweight bout. Now, she does not have to worry and can focus on trying to earn the biggest win of her career
“I am happy that ONE Championship decided to go through with it and not cancel the event altogether,” the Filipina says.
“It goes to show that they really considered the preparation of the fighters, but I understand that safety should always come first, especially for the fans.
“I think it would still be an amazing event, even though it’s going to be in closed doors – just because of the great fighters that are lined up.”
“At the end of the day, with no one in that room, we’re still fighting in ONE Championship,” the American athlete says.
“We’re still fighting the best guys in the world, and there’s still millions of people watching it. We understand there’s still eyes on it and we’re still competing at the highest level. They may not be in the same room and it’s a bit harder to feed off that, but [I’m excited] just knowing that we can go out there and compete on the world stage.”
There are also some martial artists who think the circumstances might help them to put on a show this Friday.
“When I first heard about it, I thought it might be a little bit weird. The more I think of it, it might come as more of an advantage because there will be a little less pressure,” says Jeff Chan, who will make his ONE debut against Radeem Rahman.
For others, it will be a chance to return to the kind of intimate environment that they have previously thrived in.
Kimihiro Eto showed the best form of his career when he earned three consecutive victories by arm-triangle choke in Rich Franklin’s ONE Warrior Series, in which live events play out in front of just a few people.
The man from Japan believes it could be the perfect kind of environment for him to thrive against Amir Khan.
“I fought in ONE Warrior Series four times. In ONE Warrior Series, there was mostly no audience, so I’m used to it. It’s actually better for me,” he says.