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Chatri Sityodtong predicts that more MMA trades are coming

SPORTel Asia
ONE Championship CEO Chatri Sityodtong
Photo by Sean Lee/Getty Images

In Chatri Sityodtong’s eyes, the shocking move that sent ONE Championship star Ben Askren to the UFC in exchange for longtime flyweight titleholder Demetrious Johnson is just the beginning.

The ONE CEO recently appeared on a conference call in which he addressed a number of topics, including whether he believed more promotions could start considering trading athletes. Last month, a previously reported deal between ONE and the UFC to swap Askren for Johnson became official.

Asked if he’d been in contact with other promoters to offer advice or share ideas, Sityodtong expressed excitement at the possibility of similar moves being made in the future.

“There’s a lot of discussions going on globally, that’s all I’ll say,” Sityodtong said. “For sure, this historic first trade ever in MMA history has sparked up a lot of discussions globally with all the major organizations. So if I had to predict, I don’t think this will be the last time it happens, which is great for the fans, the organizations, and the athletes. I think it’s something new that’s unprecedented that will cause great positive impact globally.”

One reason for Sityodtong’s optimism is that he expects the Johnson-Askren deal to be a boon for all parties involved. ONE is getting one of the most accomplished athletes in MMA history in Johnson, a man who defended the UFC flyweight title 11 consecutive times to set a company record, while the UFC is getting an unbeaten welterweight in Askren, whose brash persona is more in line with the promotion’s marketing methods.

Johnson recently lost his championship in a rematch with Henry Cejudo, but the 32-year-old had otherwise accomplished everything he possibly could have inside the Octagon (outside of booking an oft-discussed superfight with current bantamweight champion T.J. Dillashaw); similarly, Askren was previously a titleholder in Bellator and he conquered ONE’s relatively unknown welterweight division before announcing a brief retirement last November. This trade represents a fresh start for both.

“I think everybody wins,” Sityodtong said. “I genuinely believe that ONE Championship wins. I genuinely believe the UFC wins. I genuinely believe Ben Askren wins. I genuinely believe DJ wins. I think in this situation everyone is really happy because for ONE Championship we get the number one pound-for-pound greatest mixed martial artist in history, and his style and who he is as a person is going to resonate very well in Asia.

“And Ben Askren going to the UFC, he’s going to prove that he’s the best in the world and he’s going to dominate. His style is also something that’s very appreciated by American fans, so I think everyone wins.”

Sityodtong couldn’t confirm who would be first for Johnson, though he listed a number of ONE’s flyweight contenders as possible opponents to welcome him to the Singapore-based promotion including Adriano Moraes (who recently mentioned wanting to fight Johnson), Danny Kingad, and Gianni Suba. One name that Sityodtong brought up multiple times was former flyweight champion Kairat Akhmetov, who has also made overtures about matching up with Johnson.

As for when he expects Johnson to fight, Sityodtong isn’t rushing his prize acquisition, though he said it would be “epic” if Johnson and another recent UFC import Eddie Alvarez could make their ONE debuts at the promotion’s first-ever show in Tokyo, which is set for March 31, 2019.

By then, could the ONE roster be bolstered by more well-known names? Pressed for details on what plans are in motion, Sityodtong replied, “We are in multiple discussions with multiple athletes, that’s all I can say. Stay tuned for more big announcements.”

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