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ONE Championship vs. UFC: How the Two MMA Organizations Stack Up

MMA is one of the fastest-growing sports in the world, if you even consider it a sport, that is. If MMA is basketball, the UFC is the NBA. If MMA is pro-wrestling, the UFC is the WWE. If MMA is soccer, the UFC is the entire damn Champions League. Dana White’s organization basically monopolizes the market and no matter how good of a product another promotion can offer, that will take years to change.

With that being said, for more hardcore fans of the sport, there are additional options to the UFC that are worth checking out. Of course, Bellator has their Light Heavyweight tournament coming up which is one of the more exciting things they’ve ever done. PFL’s Lightweight and Featherweight tournaments feature the likes of Anthony Pettis and Lance Palmer, respectively. ONE Championship just had a big event where former UFC champions Demetrious Johnson and Eddie Alvarez both competed and despite them both losing, the future seems bright for Chatri Sityodtong’s promotion.

If you need to be brought up to speed on ONE, here’s how the Singapore-based promotion works and compares to the UFC.

A Brief History of the UFC

The UFC has been around since 1993 and it hasn’t always been the rapid grower that it is today. In fact, in the early 2000s when the Fertitta brothers were going to purchase it with Dana White, Lorenzo Fertitta’s lawyer advised him against it, despite the $2 million price tag which seems like peanuts today, considering the current valuation is over $6 billion.

When the sport was still looked at as human cockfighting to most, the former UFC owners ran towards regulation and Dana and the Fertittas only continued that way. Rules and regulations were added and the sport was being cleaned up, to some extent. Today, the UFC lives on ESPN and has been one of the leaders during the pandemic.

A Brief History of ONE Championship

Compared to the UFC, ONE Championship is still a baby. It was founded just ten years ago, in the summer of 2011, by Chatri Sityodtong and Victor Cui. It was created because despite believing that martial arts were Asia’s “cultural treasure,” they didn’t have their own promotion. Today, it is by far Asia’s largest promotion and on the rotation for hardcore fans of the sport.

Most first became familiar with ONE when they were a part of the first, and to this date, the only ever trade between two MMA promotions. Fresh off of his first loss in years and unsatisfied with his standing with the UFC, Demetrious Johnson got traded with Ben Askren, the latter of which was undefeated and retired due to the lack of opportunity to face the best in the world in the UFC. All parties agreed that the pair would be happier in each other’s organization, and so the trade happened. From there, ONE signed Sage Northcutt, Eddie Alvarez, and more big names in the sport, along with Miesha Tate, who became their Vice President.

As well as MMA, ONE Championship also hosts Muay Thai and Kickboxing events which differentiates them from most promotions and certainly the UFC, who only do MMA. They have separate MMA, Muay Thai, and Kickboxing divisions where each has its own weight divisions and champions. As a result, there are 22 ONE Championship champions.

Approach to MMA

If you’ve ever watched an old Pride FC event that took place in Japan, then you know that the Asian approach to MMA and the attitude towards fighters is very different than what we have in Europe and North America. For those classic events, crowds would go silent for the fights and only make noise once they were over. MMA fighters were superstars then and some of that respect is what ONE is going for in Asia. On their website, they state that they are “a celebration of Asia’s greatest cultural treasure and its deep-rooted Asian values of integrity, humility, honor, respect, courage, discipline and compassion.”

The UFC’s tagline is a little simpler: “as real as it gets.” You could argue that it embodies all of what ONE celebrates, but that would be a little disingenuous. There’s less of a culture of respect in the UFC, which some have criticized, but it’s what gets fans watching. Without trash talk and brash personalities, you don’t get a Conor McGregor or a Ronda Rousey who bring a bunch of eyes to the sport.

Judging Criteria and Rules

You only need to have seen a few UFC pay-per-views to know the rules and judging criteria off by heart. Jon Anik and even Mike Goldberg reading them out at the start of every event is a classic piece of every fight card.

UFC fights are scored by three judges who use the 10-point must system, a scoring system brought over from boxing. The winner of the round receives 10 points, their opponent receiving 9 or less. Judges score based on effective striking and grappling, effective aggressiveness, and fighting area control, also known as octagon control.

In terms of things that are not allowed, the list is fairly large. Perhaps that’s a surprise to people that have seen some of the more gruesome elements of the sport, but it’s true. UFC fighters cannot partake in the following: headbutting, eye-gouging, biting, spitting, fish hooking, hair pulling, pile-driving, striking to the back of the head, striking the throat, extending the fingers towards the eyes, downward-pointing elbows, strike the groin, kicking or kneeing the head of a grounded opponent, stomping a grounded fighter, holding an opponent’s gloves or shorts, holding the fence, small joint manipulation, throwing an opponent outside of the fighting area, intentionally placing a finger into any orifice, cut or laceration, clawing, pinching or twisting the flesh, timidity, abusive language in the fighting area, disregard a referee’s instructions, unsportsmanlike conduct that results in injury, attacking an opponent after the period of combat, attacking an opponent during the break, attacking an opponent under the care of the referee and interference from the corner.

ONE Championship differs from the UFC massively in terms of the judging criteria it utilizes. Just like Pride FC did back in the day, in ONE Championship, judges score fights as a whole and not round by round. For casual fans who only know the biggest boxing and UFC fights, perhaps that concept is hard to wrap your head around, but there’s a very strong argument that it’s the better way to do things. When Max Holloway and Alexander Volkanovski fought their rematch last year, it was argued that a change needed to be made to the judging and this was one of the suggestions.

Judges score ONE fights based on whether there was a knockdown or near submission, then on internal or accumulated damage done, then on striking combinations and ground control, then on completed or defended takedowns and finally on effective aggression.

In terms of its ruleset, unlike the UFC, ONE Championship does not adopt the unified rules of MMA. However, this doesn’t mean that it’s the wild west of MMA. Generally, you can and can’t do the same things over in ONE as in the UFC. The main difference is something we saw come into play at ONE’s big event earlier this month, where Demetrious Johnson fought Adriano Moraes. In ONE, you’re allowed to throw knees at a grounded opponent, and of course, DJ suffered his first-ever KO loss to a knee while he was grounded in the title fight.

Weight cutting

There have been instances where fighters have looked so unhealthy during the final stages of a weight cut that a commission calls the fight off, but generally, UFC fighters really suffer to make the limit for their weight class. Fighters will generally diet down throughout their training camp and then cut a bunch of water weight in the days leading up to the weigh-in. While there haven’t yet been any serious injuries or deaths related to weight cutting in the UFC, many feel as though it’s only a matter of time until something truly devastating happens.

Well aware of this, ONE Championship has been credited with trying something different with its weight classes. It essentially does away with fighters having to dehydrate themselves as part of their weight cut. The promotion carries out weight checks and hydration tests throughout the week of their fight, forcing fighters to pick a healthier weight class for themselves. Every weight class is essentially one higher than its name equivalent in the UFC.

Viewership

Being the leader in MMA that it is, UFC basically holds all of the records when it comes to viewership. If you look at a list of the biggest PPVs in MMA in terms of buys, the UFC holds the first 187 spots. No, that’s not a typo. At the time of writing, the 187 biggest MMA PPVs of all time are all UFC shows. They had their tied-2ndbiggest event just a few months ago, too, with the Poirier vs. McGregor rematch. Their trilogy fight should be right in that territory too.

For ONE, they called this April 2021 the biggest month in the history of their existence. Despite this, ONE on TNT I fell short of the mark, bringing in just 196,000 television viewers. This made it the 88th highest-rated cable show that day, a little disappointing considering it’s arguably the biggest card they’ve ever put on.

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