It has been an explosive month of martial arts action in ONE Championship.
The world’s largest martial arts organization held three spectacular events this month, and every single one produced fireworks.
Several new World Champions were crowned, a slew of promotional newcomers made an impact in their debuts, and a couple of underdogs knocked off modern-day legends.
As May comes to a close, ONE Championship Chairman and CEO Chatri Sityodtong reflects on some of the month’s biggest storylines. He also provides a brief glimpse into the future.
ONE Championship: We had an incredible month of action, culminating with ONE: ENTER THE DRAGON. There were a lot of surprising results that night. In your eyes, what was the biggest shocker?
He looked like he was likely going to get finished at some point in the second or third round because of Shinya’s complete dominance in the takedown and ground game in the first round. But the shocker was within a minute of the second round, the fight was over with Christian raising his hand.
ONE: By coming back in round two to claim victory, what does that say about Christian?
CS: If it was an easy fight – or a fluke knockout – people could argue, ‘Is he a legit World Champion?’
The fact that he had to go through massive adversity against one of the world’s greatest grapplers, and had an Aoki armbar to fight out of says a lot – not only about Christian’s warrior spirit and World Championship mentality, but also his technical ability.
ONE: Will Christian defend his belt before the ONE Lightweight World Grand Prix concludes, or do you feel the tournament winner will be his first official challenger?
CS: I think it’s going to be up to Christian. If he wants to stay active as a World Champion, I’m sure we can find a World Title fight for him before the Grand Prix ends. That being said, we anticipate the Grand Prix ending in October in Tokyo, at our 100th show, so it’s not too long of a wait for him.
ONE: How did you react when another new World Champion was crowned that night when Regian Eersel defeated Nieky Holzken for the ONE Lightweight Kickboxing World Title?
CS: That was an electrifying match. Both men showed incredible warrior spirit, and there was incredible high-level action – whether it was jumping knees, massive left hooks to the body, head kicks, or spinning kicks.
It was the highest level of striking in the world, and it was an incredible fight. What can I say? A new World Champion was crowned.
ONE: One of the night’s biggest upsets was Samy Sana’s victory over Yodsanklai IWE Fairtex – the first time he lost in seven years. What did you think of that match-up?
CS: Wow, that was fireworks. There was back-and-forth action, both warriors were giving it their all. I was so impressed – not only from a warrior spirit perspective, but also from a technical perspective.
You saw two of the best kickboxers in the world go at it, and they left nothing to chance. They left their heart and soul in the ring that night, and Samy Sana was the rightful winner.
ONE: We know what’s next for Sana, but where does Yodsanklai go from here?
CS: Yodsanklai is a legend. [He is] one of the greatest kickboxers and one of the greatest Muay Thai World Champions in history. He has a lot of options in ONE Championship.
I know he expressed on social media that he wants to resume his career now with the 4-ounce gloves for kickboxing or Muay Thai – I guess he prefers that much better than the bigger gloves.
So again, Yodsanklai is a legend. There are a ton of options and tons of great fights for him left, and we haven’t even crowned a Muay Thai World Champion in his weight category. There are a lot of options for Yodsanklai.
ONE: Speaking of the ONE Featherweight Kickboxing World Grand Prix, who do you feel is the favorite to win the whole tournament?
CS: It’s such a stacked Grand Prix, I don’t think there is a favorite right now, genuinely. Before the quarterfinals, I would have said Giorgio [Petrosyan]or Yodsanklai was the favorite. But when you have a million dollars on the line, and when you have the world’s greatest strikers, there is no margin for error.
I could see Jo Nattawut winning the whole thing, I could see Dzhabar [Askerov] winning the whole thing, I could see Samy Sana winning the whole thing, and I can still see Petchmorakot [Petchyindee Academy] or Giorgio Petrosyan winning the whole thing, so it’s a toss-up.
ONE: You mentioned on social media about doing another World Grand Prix for US$1 million. Are there any specific martial arts, or divisions, you have in mind?
CS: The fanbase was really excited about doing a $1 million Muay Thai World Grand Prix. I’m open to the idea – and mixed martial arts as well. The most important criteria for me is, can I get the very best eight individual athletes of that weight division, of that sport?
That’s the most important thing for a million-dollar Grand Prix, so that’s what I’m looking for next – can we get a stacked Grand Prix in the same way we’ve had with the ONE Featherweight Kickboxing World Grand Prix to do another million dollars?
ONE: With having three World Grands Prix this year, will this become an annual thing?
CS: Most definitely. ONE Championship, every year, will have a few World Grands Prix across the different sports as a part of our events schedule.
ONE: Earlier in the month, Jonathan Haggerty defeated Sam-A Gaiyanghadao for the ONE Flyweight Muay Thai World Title, and Rodtang Jitmuangnon seemingly worked his way into a World Title shot. Will he be the next World Title challenger?
Both men are the greatest Muay Thai fighters on the planet in that weight category. It’s happening this summer, and it’s going to be electrifying.
ONE: What can fans expect from that bout?
CS: Haggerty is a very technical fighter with a big, big heart. But at the end of the day, he is a very technical fighter who has lots of weapons — whether it’s his kicks, his knees, his elbows, or his amazing combinations. Rodtang has much more of a classic, big-punching, smashing-low-leg-kick style, walks in your face, and never takes a step back.
It’s going to be an interesting clash of styles, but I don’t see that fight going the full distance just because of the styles, and because both men have genuine power – monster power – in their strikes.