The first event from the Singapore-based ONE FC was highly touted and full of action, but did it live up to the hype?
After the break, we have a detailed look at the good, the bad and the future of the upstart promotion.
Talent. Like most people, this was my first time seeing a lot of these fighters in an MMA ring - and on the whole, I was very impressed. Although there were matchmaking issues (see below), ONE FC (and the pilot promotion Martial Combat) has unearthed some genuinely good talent.
Eduard Folayang and A Sol Kwon put on a fantastic show in the main event, and I can't wait to see Zorobabel Moreira, Eddie Ng, Vuyisile Colossa, Eric Kelly and Yodsanan Sor Nanthachai again. That is an impressive amount of names for a debut show. Yes, some of these guys were given squash matches, but it was clear that they had legitimate MMA skills and were not your typical ill-equipped crossover athletes.
Pre-fight hype. This was promotion done right. ONE FC CEO Victor Cui's experience was clear as his debut event garnered far more interest than any recent event in Asia. Some of the claims leading up to the event were dubious (calling it "Asia's largest and most prestigious mixed martial arts event," before their first event springs to mind), but they served their purpose.
In their first event, ONE FC was able to generate far more fan interest than the likes of Shooto, Pancrase and Deep in Japan, the Hong Kong-based Legend FC or the South Korean Road FC - no mean feat considering that a significant portion of the card was populated by MMA rookies.
Those expecting the second coming of Pride FC were gullible but people were genuinely excited - and that is something no Asian MMA event has been able to accomplish for a long, long time.
Local focus. Phil Baroni was the only real international "name" fighter brought in for the event and that is very smart. ONE FC is tailored to an Asian audience and they don't need to waste money bringing in expensive foreign heavyweights or the big MMA names that western fans know - they need local, sustainable talent.
ONE FC is looking for long-term success here, and bringing in outside talent, would only bring short-term benefits at a high cost. Developing its own stars is the way to go.
Matchmaking. The biggest problem with the event,and the most difficult issue to overcome for ONE FC brass, was the matchmaking.
With so many inexperienced MMA fighters on the card, it really wasn't a difficult issue to foresee, but five of the 10 bouts were completely one-sided. These mismatches made for great violence, but they were not great sport. The challenge in fixing this issue will be finding depth
This is not to say the entire card consisted of poorly made bouts though, the main event between Eduard Folayang and A Sol Kwon was absolutely superb.
Production. ONE FC has a lot of new athletes and is appealing to a new fan base - they really needed to introduce the fighters better. Just having the commentators list accomplishments and a few tidbits of information as a fighter makes his way to the ring is not enough. Potential fans need to care about these fighters. Small vignettes introducing the fighters were posted on YouTube so why not include them in the stream?
Unfortunately the ring announcer's voice wasn't capable of doing the epic things, he thought it could do. Normally I would not deem something like this worth mentioning, but it detracted from an otherwise polished production.
I would also like to see localized introductions to MMA prior to the event. The vast majority of the audience will have never seen MMA before.At the time of writing there is still no schedule for the ESPN Star Sports broadcast through Asia and so it his highly likely that these minor production issues are addressed.
Fight week. Despite generating an impressive level of media and fan interest leading up to the event, the international promotional efforts tapered off in the week leading up to the event.
The ONE FC website provided no link to the live stream, no TV broadcast information, no links to fight week interviews, no weigh-in results and at the time of writing, 24 hours after the event finished, still no results.
The biggest difficulty facing ONE FC is correcting the matchmaking problems. This is mainly due to the simple fact that there is a lack of MMA gyms in Asia outside of Japan and South Korea. ONE FC will need to do some impressive scouting to come up with local guys that can compete with the likes of Eduard Folayang, Zorobabel Moreira, Eddie Ng, Vuyisile Colossa, Eric Kelly and Yodsanan Sor Nanthachai.
Given some of the talent they were able to unearth in their debut event though, I have faith.
The production and promotional issues we saw are easy to fix - some of them were just minor organizational problems and obviously any new event will have hiccups initially. The challenge will be to tailor the production to this completely new audience through Asia. Victor Cui has a huge amount of experience here and I'm interested to see how he introduces the sport and fighters. It will be crucial to their success.
Prior to the first ONE FC event, the Singapore-based promotion was being touted as "The king of MMA in Asia." It's premature to crown ONE FC, it will take at least a year for the promotion to really show its true potential, but it is off to a solid start.