One Championship’s recent One: Heroes of Honor event at the Mall of Asia Arena turned out to be a great night of fights. It had its ebbs and flows, its high points, its funny moments, plus the kind of exciting, adrenaline-pumping action that fight fans come to see. And it did it all with a distinct Asian flare.
It was also a historic night for the Singapore-based organization as it debuted its new Super Series league. The new format saw some of the world’s most prolific strikers doing what they do best under the One Championship banner.
Rewind back about 10 or 15 years, and it wasn’t so unusual to see fights of all kinds thrown together on one card. The Japanese organizations in particular were notorious for eschewing weight classes and regular rules in the name of entertainment.
As the sport fought for mainstream recognition, though, standardized rules became the norm. It was important not only for the sport to be legalized, but also for mixed martial arts to distinguish itself as its own form of combat. Hard to do that when you’re sharing the limelight with other codes.
Recently, some MMA organizations have started to incorporate different rulesets on a single card again. Bellator in the US started up its kickboxing arm two years ago. One, which has also held grappling-only match-ups on its shows, is now trying its luck at bringing strikers to the forefront. This recent Manila card proved that the format has its advantages.
For one, it keeps fans guessing. If you watch a regular MMA card, your brain soon settles into the rhythm of five-minute rounds. If the fights aren’t exciting, it’s easy to get bored when your mind falls into a set tempo. But with three-minute rounds thrown into the mix, your attention span stays alert, meaning you’re tuned into the action at all times.
Plus, it allows viewers to appreciate different kinds of skillsets. As much as MMA is billed as the pinnacle of martial arts, the fighters who specialize in one facet of fighting are on a different level. You also get to see moves and techniques that fighters wouldn’t dare try in an MMA setting. So for fans of stand-up fighting, it was a treat to see a world-class kickboxer like Giorgio Petrosyan tee off with his slick array of strikes.
The new format kept fans entertained throughout the night at MOA Arena. They were on edge for heated exchanges during the kickboxing fights, gasped at spinning elbows when the Muay Thai stylists went at it, and cheered when the MMA fighters locked in submissions.
The key thing for One’s Super Series is its quality talent. The organization didn’t simply send out a roll call for kickboxers and call it a day. Guys like Petrosyan and Nong-O Gaiyanghadao, who also fought on the card, are world champions at the top of their game. As the Super Series gains more traction and prestige, expect more big-name fighters to enter the fold. Signing away top MMA talent from the UFC and Bellator might be an uphill battle for One, but given the scope of its audience, it has a real shot at attracting the world’s greatest strikers to its shows.
One has even promised that some of its MMA fighters will eventually fight in Super Series matches and vice versa. In the past, these MMA x kickboxing crossovers had a tendency to get a bit farcical. But done right, it can provide some great one-off match-ups for fans to enjoy.
For future events, One will need to come to a decision on whether to use a cage or ring for all of its fights. The new five-rope ring was great for the strikers and the audience’s visibility, but it forced referees to intervene during some grappling exchanges. If the mixed cards will continue to take place in one arena, then the cage would be the much safer choice for the fighters.
Now that MMA is a worldwide phenomenon and recognized as its own code of combat, will mixed-rules fight cards start to become the norm?
As fight fans, we sure hope so.