ONE Championship held a opening press conference on 23 August to announce details of its first event in Japan, which will take place on 31 March 2019.
A handful of ONE’s top talent were on hand, including Mei Yamaguchi, Ken Hasegawa, Garry Tonon, Ralph Gracie, Nong-O Gaiyanghadao and Shinya Aoki.
Bantamweight champion Bibiano Fernandes, Giorgio Petrosyan, Renzo Gracie, strawweight champion Yoshitaka Naito and atomweight champion Angela Lee made sure the weight of the event was evident.
ONE CEO Chatri Sityodtong said that holding an event in Japan will usher in a new chapter in martial arts. He announced two events in Japan for 2019: 31 March and October. March will be at the Ryogoku Kokugikan, but October has not been finalized. Sityodtong then went into ONE Championship and its metric outreach from its beginning to present day.
Sityodtong extolled the virtues of martial arts uniting all peoples in Asia, and that ONE Championship sees real life heroes as paramount. He also stated that the dynamic of MMA in the east differs from the west in that the west sees it as a business whereas the east focuses on the positive aspects of martial arts.
The CEO gave numbers for current live broadcast at an average of 11 million per event, with a high of 35 million. Thirty events are set for 2019 with all venues booked, and an estimated 52 per year in the following years.
Following Sidyodtong’s statement, the panel was opened up to the audience for questions.
V.V Mei said that she is glad she never gave up martial arts, because she is happy to have gotten to fight across the world with ONE.
Garry Tonnon said that he’s very excited to be in Japan since he’s been studying Japanese fighters for a long time. He said that grappling in MMA is dwindling in the west, and MMA is becoming boring. Tonon says that the spirit of fighting and martial arts differ in that fights have only one winner, but in competition, both competitors learn and grow.
Ralph Gracie said that Japan has played a major role in martial arts history, and within the Gracie family’s history as well, and he’s very thankful. His cryptic words regarding “representing his family one more time” left an open question mark on his return to MMA, then Sityodtong confirmed it.
Bibiano Fernandes said he’s happy to come back to Japan. His first year was 2001, and when he was asked if he wanted to come back, it was his dream come true. Back in his early days in Japan, Bibiano was asked if he would fight in K-1, or against KID, and he always said “Of course”. Bibanio said Japan made him who he is today. Coming back to Japan eight years later, he will show off his skills as a champion.
Renzo Gracie said his last time in Japan was supposed to be his retirement, but then he heard ONE was going to come to Japan, so “How can I retire?” He thinks that ONE will return MMA back to the PRIDE days when 100,000 packed a stadium.
Angela Lee said traveling all around the world for her sport is wonderful, and she’s always wanted to come to Japan. She believes that giving back to the community is part of her mandate. Lee also said that one of her goals is to become a two-division champion. Sityodtong confirmed that Lee will jump up to strawweight in November to face the winner of the title fight between Xiong Jingnan and Samara Santos.
Brandon Vera said he wanted to throw his name into the mix to be invited to fight on the Japan card. Sityodtong said he’d be willing to grant Vera’s request to fight for a second division title, the light heavyweight, title in Tokyo.
CEO Sityodtong said that ONE’s roster is 448 strong. He said that there are 22 Japanese fighters and that number will be growing. In regards to Japanese champions in ONE, Shinya Aoki will meet Ev Ting Thailand, then will get a title shot if he wins.
Sidyodtong also responded that he wants to promote more boxing matches and would look at the opportunity for Manny Pacquiao in ONE. He said the MMA market is underfunded and he will spend millions to revive it.