By Ethan Beller || Contributing Writer
As the UFC airs its first event on Network TV in decades this past Saturday, MMA’s slow and steady push into the mainstream becomes more and more apparent. At the same time, ONE Championship, the biggest MMA organization in Asia, is attempting to break into the American Market. ONE Championship’s first event in U.S. prime time, hosted on TNT this past Wednesday, can be fairly summarized as an almost unmitigated disaster. The main card was only a minuscule three fights (as opposed to the usual 5 or 6 in the main and an additional 5 or 6 preliminary fights) and the whole card itself was only 6 fights long. Of those three fights on the main card, only 2 were MMA fights or fights by a mixed martial arts rule set. This includes striking on the feet and takedowns, wrestling, and submission on the ground. The final fight of the night was a Muay Thai match which only featured striking.
The two MMA matches, Demetrious Johnson vs. Adriano Moraes and Eddie Alvarez vs. Iuri Lapicus, were meant to showcase a bit of sporting nationalism in an event that was largely sold as the USA vs the world. Both Eddie Alvarez and Demetrious Johnson are Americans and former UFC Champions, with quite a bit of name recognition. Their opponents were underdogs born and raised outside of the United States, Moraes in Brazil, and Lapicus in Moldova and Italy. Johnson, also known as DJ, is considered by many to be among the greatest MMA athletes in the history of the sport. Both American legends lost their fights via early stoppage. Alvarez vs. Lapicus was the first fight ONE Championship ever had on American primetime, and this platinum opportunity lasted a tepid one minute and two seconds before the referee stopped the fight. This began an interminable wait for disqualification due to strikes to the back of the head, while Alvarez paced around the cage looking as confused and agitated as all the viewers watching at home. The ONE executives were presumably screaming invective off-screen as the commentary team struggled to fill time and showed continual replays of a dull bit of ground and pound.
Johnson vs. Moraes also failed to live up to expectations. They worked their way through a lackluster first round although there was a bit of excitement on the ground towards the last minute. In the second round, Moraes, a noted Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu expert, showed off his standing game by knocking DJ to the ground with a nasty uppercut before finishing him with a knee to head. This was the first time Johnson had been finished in an otherwise remarkable MMA career. The aftermath of this fight featured another awkward bit of standing around and uncomfortable interviews as DJ was mostly non-committal before watching the tape while Moraes struggled with waves of emotion at retaining his belt as a +423 underdog.
The highlight of the evening was the thrilling Muay Thai matchup that ended the night between Rodtang Jitmuangnon and Danial Williams. Williams showed a chin of steel by taking the elbows, fists, and kicks of Rodtang, while continually charging forward with heart and heat. He eventually unloaded everything he had in the final round to press the champion, but Rodtang, the belt holder and biggest star in the sport of Muay Thai today, won by decision. His dominant first round, pivotal knockdown in the second round, and a 50/50 third were enough to secure the 23-year-old, 267-42-10 overall, a victory. Both men were a bloody mess by the end of the fight and their brawl showed the beauty and technique in the sweet science along with some cutting elbows. The fight was a thrilling 3 rounds but could have been longer, as it seemed like Williams was just heating up.
The best compliment one can pay to this whole experience is that at least ONE didn’t implore their viewers to spend somewhere in between $50 and $70 on this waste of an event that the UFC typically charges for pay-per-views. Alvarez is an amazing fighter and not getting to watch him fight is an incredible disappointment, whereas Johnson is worse for wear at 34 and hasn’t fought in almost 3 years. Rodtang saved the card for the few who fought through the slog to make it to his fight. Hopefully, this is just the tepid start to something beautiful as ONE on TNT returns this Wednesday with their Lightweight champion, Christian Lee, putting his belt on the line in the headliner.
Senior Ethan Beller is a contributing writer. His email is email@example.com.