ONE Warrior Series Is Developing Into Something Truly Special
There have been so many exciting things happening in ONE Championship that, sometimes, it is hard to keep track of them all.
Much of the spotlight has been on the epic ONE World Title bouts, captivating striking battles in ONE Super Series, and groundbreaking press conferences like the recently-held blockbuster in Tokyo, Japan.
However, one of the most thrilling developments that have blossomed is ONE Warrior Series (OWS).
Ever since its launch in mid-January, ONE Championship Vice President Rich Franklin and OWS Director Jonathan Fong have been on a mission to find Asia’s next martial arts superstars.
So far, their continental talent search has paid off.
In the Season 1 Finale, three athletes — Rockie Bactol, Woonkyum Kim, and “Crazy Dog” Dae Sung Park — were awarded US$100,000 contracts to compete in ONE Championship.
Some of those who did not win one of these lucrative contracts have already proven themselves in The Home Of Martial Arts, too.
Season 1 contestant Akihiro Fujisawa is one great example, defeating Kaji Ebin at ONE: HEROES OF HONOR in April. Then, Dae Sung Park dominated respected veteran Trestle Tan en route to a unanimous decision victory at ONE: PURSUIT OF POWER in July.
Just seeing these athletes develop over the past several months has been a captivating storyline within itself. But now, with twice as many prospects in OWS vying for a ONE Championship contract, the promotion has become even more fascinating. It adds a certain hunger.
A brilliant example that provided lots of intrigue was the ONE Warrior Series 2 Mid-Season Finale, which aired exclusively on the ONE Super App in late July.
First off, since the event was an exclusive, it felt like it was a secret show, and only the select few who had the app got to go in and enjoy the show.
Upon entry, anyone could tell how unique the atmosphere was.
ONE Championship prides itself on delivering a rock concert-like stadium experience — complete with a breathtaking stage, pyrotechnics, cutting-edge graphics, massive television monitors, and pulsating music.
In contrast, OWS was more like an underground club.
The invite-only event was simplistic in every way — from the graphics to the black-roped ring. There were no elaborate entrances, wild fireworks, or anything of the sort.
It was just 30 young competitors trying to capitalize on the opportunity of a lifetime. It was simple and straightforward.
The aesthetic and atmosphere may represent where the prospects currently stand in their careers, but many of their performances were an indicator of where they could end up, as several emerging talents had an incredible showing at the Mid-Season 2 Finale.
A pair of standouts were Eto Kimihiro and JD Hardwick, who dominated their opponents en route to submission victories. Both athletes have an extensive mixed martial arts background, and it would not be surprising to see them move up to ONE Championship if they have another dominant performance in the next OWS Finale.
Also, 21-bout veteran Mark Abelardo engaged in the unofficial “Bout Of The Night” against Iranian striker Ali Motamed. Although the New Zealander left with the unanimous decision victory, his opponent pushed him to the limits. Both of these athletes would be terrific additions to the promotion’s bantamweight ranks.
Let’s not forget about the trio of atomweights, too. Bali MMA’s Nyrene Crowley, Malaysian grappler Edilah Johany, and Thai striker Stamp Fairtex all tore through their adversaries. If their development continues escalating at such a high pace, they could score contracts, and inject new life into the organization’s women’s atomweight division.
While there were a slew of other buzzworthy prospects, like Michael Walker, and Emmanuel Onyedikachi, it was Mongolian showman Zoltsetseg Shinechagtga who grabbed everyone’s attention with his 58-second knockout, as well as his in-bout commentary.
OWS may have a drastically different look and objective than its parent organization, but it has a cool factor all of its own.
Best of all, we can all watch these emerging talents continue proving themselves before the finest graduates join the world’s best martial artists in the big show, and transform into global superstars.
From the looks of it, there could be quite a few superstars in the making. However, the only way to know for sure is to keep watching, which the world will have the privilege of seeing as they develop.
Bear Frazer is ONE Championship’s Features Editor. All opinions expressed are the writer’s own.