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The Rise of ONE FC: Should UFC and Bellator watch their backs?

For the past few months, the MMA world has been trying to make sense of the deal with ONE FC. Recently, the promotion has made big moves such as the Johnson-Askren trade, the signings of Eddie Alvarez and Yoshihiro Akiyama, the announcement of Miesha Tate as the Vice President of the promotion and managing to acquire Sage Northcutt after his UFC contract expired. Fans speculate where and when ONE will impose its competitive will amongst Bellator and the UFC. To serious fans of MMA, ONE is the major professional promotion that caters to fighters from East Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, the Pacific Islands and Australia; with a few fighters here and there from random spots around the world like Alain Ngalani and more recently, Ben Ngyuen. The recent traction the company is building is showing up on the global radar and deserves to be investigated.

Meisha Tate as Vice President for ONE FC

For starters, making Miesha Tate the organization’s Vice President can be perceived in many ways. The once UFC women’s bantamweight contender and former champion, accepted the VP position along with duties as a color commentator. Currently, she’s making the transition with her family and moving to Singapore. Tate even recounts visiting Singapore a few years prior and meeting the CEO of ONE, Charti Sityodtong, approaching her and conversing about his life’s story and what his company represents. At that time, Miesha Tate even asked Sityodtong if there were positions available, despite still being a competitor in the UFC. So, what was the reasoning for Sityodtong targeting Tate for the job when the VP position became available? What are his intentions? If Tate was looking for work, why did she not seek the UFC knowing their tendency to employ former fighters in administrative jobs?

A post shared by Miesha Tate (@mieshatate) on Nov 8, 2018 at 12:15am PST

Miesha Tate isn’t the only acquisition to the ONE organization, of course. The recent signings of Yoshihiro Akiyama, Eddie Alvarez and Sage Northcutt are also factors. All three are former UFC contenders and all three are big names in the sport. Akiyama is a well-known, veteran fighter and a popular figure in the East Asian fight market. Alvarez, however, is a surprising name due to all of the hardship it cost just getting into the UFC. His lawsuit with Bellator to exit from his contract kept him out of the cage for over a year and a half. After working so hard to get into the UFC where he eventually won the championship, why would Alvarez simply leave his position on the roster for another organization? Many followers of MMA tend to cite the lack of pay that the UFC offers to its fighters. (LINK) The small pay purses maybe partly due to the sponsorship deal that the UFC made with Reebok which limits fighter sponsors. By not allowing fighters to acquire their own fight gear sponsors, lesser-known fighters suffer the repercussions.

Sage Northcutt gets signed to ONE following his UFC contract expiration

With these fighters also came the signing of Sage Northcutt to ONE FC. A rising star in the UFC, Northcutt had a hype-train almost as fast as he got his first fight in the UFC. The announcement of his signing has shocked MMA fans this past week. There were rumors speculating around his career’s current state such as him traveling, being at various gyms and trying to avoid the distractions of home. However, fans didn’t expect him to sign with another organization since the relationship between him and UFC president, Dana White, is perceived as very cordial. So why would Sage Northcutt leave a promotion that appeals more to his hometown crowd for an organization that mainly works out of Singapore?

A post shared by Super Sage Northcutt (@supersagenorthcutt) on Nov 30, 2018 at 4:38pm PST

Mighty Mouse to ONE FC

Which brings us to one of the more controversial dealings that ONE FC has made when it comes to fighters. In what seems like a trade between sports teams, Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson was released from the UFC to sign with ONE almost simultaneously as Ben Askren being released from ONE to sign with the UFC. Both men have had dominant title reigns in the respective organizations they come from. Askren is undefeated in his MMA career in which he was welterweight champion of both Bellator and ONE FC. Mighty Mouse holds the UFC record with 11 title defenses during his time as the flyweight champion. It can be said that the nature of competition and solidifying himself as one of the best are the reasons for Ben Askren wanting his shot in the UFC. As for Johnson, it’s difficult to pinpoint why the UFC would be so quick to give him to another organization. Chances are the reasons might be rooted in Johnson’s weight class.

A post shared by Demetrious Johnson (@mightymouse125) on Oct 29, 2018 at 10:01pm PDT

Rumors about the UFC dissolving the men’s flyweight division have been circulating throughout the MMA world. It comes as no surprise since flyweight is often complained about by fans for the lack of knockout and submission finishes. But despite the displeasure of some fans, Dana White may not have wanted to look bad by destroying a division that holds the champion with the most title defenses. Additionally, it could be due to the fact that Mighty Mouse and other fighters are intentionally leaving and seeking a better future in ONE FC. Once again, many would cite lack of pay on the part of the UFC. The contracts agreed upon with Demetrious Johnson and Eddie Alvarez are said to be at least eight figures. For Johnson, his deal with ONE goes deeper than just fighting. When the ONE organization recently announced that it would be starting an Esports league, they also announced Johnson as the Chief Brand Ambassador. This endeavor is costing the organization $50 million dollars. This also gives the organization a stake in another market that has potential to make money in the future.

Where do we go from here?

Which leaves us with more questions than we have answered. Are these fighters gravitating towards ONE FC for greener pastures or are they trying to avoid a collapse of sorts? Is there some type of mistreatment that Bellator and the UFC are subjecting their fighters to that the public doesn’t see? Did ONE FC install Miesha Tate as vice president for valuable insight or for knowledge on how to beat a rival?

The way that ONE FC is appealing to fighters is promise. Not just promise of its success, but the promise of the fighters’ success. Involving Johnson in their Esports endeavor is a massive show of faith in the newly signed competitor. It may seem to be that ONE FC wants to make a major leap in 2019. Building itself to to the point where if the UFC makes a fall and Bellator takes its spot, ONE will only worry about one organization rather than two.

A post shared by Eddie Alvarez (@ealvarezfight) on Dec 20, 2018 at 6:21am PST

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