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Janet Todd overcame imposter syndrome en route to winning ONE Championship kickboxing crown

ONE kickboxing champion Janet Todd (pictured) competes in a muay Thai bout against Anne Line Hogstad on Wednesday in Singapore
ONE Championship

Janet Todd was thrust right into the fire in her ONE Championship debut and now, having emerged from the crucible, she can admit she felt the heat.

On Wednesday, the reigning ONE atomweight kickboxing champion fights Anne Line Hogstad in a co-main event muay Thai bout at ONE on TNT 2 in Singapore. It will be one of the most high-profile bouts of Todd’s fighting career, which began 12 years ago and has since spanned four continents.

Todd, 35, is well-aware of the increased exposure and expectations that come with having a title around her waist and a fight set to be broadcast on U.S. network television, but unlike in her first appearance for ONE, she’s not doubting herself.

Back in February 2019, Todd was brought in to face Stamp Fairtex, an emerging star that has found success in ONE’s kickboxing, muay Thai, and MMA divisions. At the time, Stamp was the ONE muay Thai atomweight champion and she successfully defended her title with a unanimous decision over Todd.

“My mentality was a little bit different,” Todd told MMA Fighting in a recent interview. “It was a title fight, so I just felt like maybe there was a little bit of an imposter syndrome. Like I might not deserve this. But after that fight, it went all five rounds, I felt like I started getting my rhythm. It was too late, but I started getting my rhythm in the fifth round.

“That kind of increased my confidence and let me know that I belong in there. I think that’s what made the big mental shift, that competition.”

Todd and Stamp crossed paths again one year later, this time in a kickboxing championship bout. At that point, Todd had carved out a niche of her own, defeating three straight opponents to set up the Stamp rematch.

They went the distance again, but this time it was Todd who emerged with a split decision victory and her first-ever world championship. She was also the first fighter to hand Stamp a defeat in ONE.

Todd points to her determination to not allow Stamp to dictate the action of their second fight as a key reason why she was able to change the outcome. The Japanese-American fighter’s mental approach couldn’t have been stronger, especially since she was coming off of a massive knockout of Ekaterina Vandaryeva at ONE Championship: Century in Tokyo.

After competing everywhere from Canada to Poland to Peru, Todd found herself fighting in her ancestral home for the first time, with plenty of friends and family in attendance. She commemorated the moment with a highlight-reel knockout.

“I was excited about it because actually I hadn’t gotten a knockout before, I’d always gotten TKOs, so that was my first head kick knockout,” Todd said. “So that was exciting for me, personally. And it was also something that we’d drilled before and I just saw that opportunity and was super excited that it landed. … I did notice that the clip got tossed around. I guess it helps get my name out there too.”

Todd has yet to defend her kickboxing title. After defeating Stamp, she scored a unanimous decision win over Alma Juniku in a muay Thai bout and again competes in that discipline on Wednesday. It’s not exactly clear what the stakes are for Todd going forward, with ONE atomweight muay Thai champion Allycia Hellen Rodrigues currently on the sidelines due to pregnancy and a Stamp trilogy out of the question until Stamp finishes her business in an upcoming MMA atomweight grand prix.

Perhaps a win keeps Todd in line for an interim or vacant title opportunity, but for now she’s just thrilled to be involved in the rare muay Thai bout that will air at a reasonable time in the U.S (thought it will be on tape delay).

“I’m excited,” Todd said. “In the western area, the UFC is very popular, so people tend to tune in to that. Being on prime time, TNT, and being able to not only show MMA, but muay Thai kickboxing and the top athletes in ONE Championship, and showing what we’re capable of, I hope that brings us a lot more fans in the western hemisphere and brings more popularity to ONE Championship over here.

“I really do value what ONE Championship brings with regards to respect and unity, which I don’t think is something UFC necessarily does. I think it’s helping all of us athletes progress and I hope it’s something that the audience sees and sees us as role models as they pursue their passion in martial arts.”

Having a greater platform is especially important for Todd as one of several fighters featured in ONE’s recently released promo addressing the rise of hate crimes against Asian-Americans.

“I think it’s important to be able to send out that message and I feel like I’m perfectly aligned with the movement that ONE Championship has with stopping Asian hate,” Todd said. “It’s not only that, there’s just been a lot of division back here at home, so sending that message of compassion and just being nice to people, I’m glad I’m part of a promotion that believes in that and likes to send that message too.”

Growing up in a mixed-race household in Hermosa Beach, Calif., Todd says she was fortunate not to deal with any major prejudice in her community, describing it as “a cute, little town.” If anything, she was mostly concerned about feeling like she belonged when she was bringing bento boxes to lunch while the other kids usually showed up with sandwiches and bag lunches.

Now that she’s older—and a world champion—she understands how important it is to have strong role models and she’s willing to take on that responsibility herself.

“I feel it now,” Todd said. “I feel like I want to be a good role model, even before ONE Championship, just being a good role model to my teammates. I started this sport late, so I’m the older one in the crowd (laughs).

“Not to associate age with role models, but I always want to set a good example in terms of my values and my work ethic and such. As my platform grew by being on ONE Championship, yeah, I feel like have some sort of responsibility to make sure that I’m setting a good example.”