ONE Championship’s Most Recent Announcements: What they are and what they mean for the future of Muay Thai
Angela Chang | October 30, 2022
On September 12, 2022, Chatri Sityodtong, the CEO of ONE Championship, held a press conference at the legendary Lumpinee Boxing Stadium.
At the press conference, where over 1,300 people were in attendance, Chatri seemed to drop one major announcement after the other. Here are the five announcements (and then some) that he promised to make:
Chatri’s new show at Lumpinee will be called ONE Lumpinee. It will start in January 2023, and be aired live every Friday night with a global broadcast to 154 countries via media partnerships. There will be a minimum of 52 events in 2023. Each show will have Muay Thai, MMA, kickboxing, and submission grappling. This is not unlike the typical ONE fight card nowadays - except this will feature local lower-level fighters.
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think that one day I would be the main promoter for the Lumpinee Stadium to showcase our national treasure to the world,” said Chatri. “For the first time in history, Lumpinee will be broadcast live to 154 countries.”
Higher Fight Purses
ONE Lumpinee also promises to pay 50% more to “elevate the entire ecosystem.” According to an article from fightsports.tv, the promise to pay more only applies in relation to other promoters at Lumpinee.
Muay Thai fighters are usually paid low purses. Even the best of the best found it difficult to work their way out of poverty. The globalization of Muay Thai and promotions like ONE are changing that, allowing Muay Thai fighters to earn purses that are at least 20-30 times more than what they would make at a local promotion in Thailand.
Due to the economic nature of fighting in Thailand, the higher purses being offered have motivated many of the top stadium fighters to transition their style into one that’s more entertaining, in hopes that they will get the opportunity to land a ONE contract.
Investment in Developing Muay Thai Internationally
Chatri announced that ONE will invest a whopping $100 million into Muay Thai internationally to develop the industry. This investment will be made over the course of the next few years. According to the ONE website, the investment “would cover many aspects including events, marketing, athlete pay, and athlete safety – either medically or wherever possible. In addition, Sityodtong said that his goal for this investment is not only to elevate the athletes who compete in Muay Thai, but also to inspire his countrymen in Thailand.”
Road to ONE
Road to ONE, a tournament series that promises the winner a ONE Championship contract worth $100,000, has already been implemented via a few promotions such as Fairtex Fight in Thailand and MuayThai Grand Prix in the U.K. Chatri announced that there will be more partnerships with official representatives from the U.S., U.K. Japan, China, Germany, Australia, Philippines, Mongolia, Russia, Thailand, South Africa, Canada, Armenia, and “more countries coming soon.”
A dozen Road to ONE installments have already been confirmed. The fights are under Muay Thai rules, with MMA gloves.
Major Thai Broadcasting Deal
Starting in January 2023, a major Thai broadcaster will air all ONE events live. Negotiations have yet to be concluded, and an additional announcement will be made once it’s been made official. Because ONE is sitting comfortably near the top when it comes to organic views and broadcast TV reach, getting exclusive rights to air ONE within Thailand will be huge for both the broadcaster and ONE.
ONE To Return to Bangkok
Due to COVID-19 restrictions and prior requirements to enter Thailand, ONE Championship hasn’t held an event in Thailand since 2020. Chatri announced that ONE on Prime Video 6 will take place in Bangkok on January 14 at Muang Thong Thani’s Impact Arena.
This event has already been confirmed to feature a special-rules fight between Stamp Fairtex and Anissa Meksen. Stamp is a former ONE champion in both Muay Thai and kickboxing, and has recently been focusing on MMA. Anissa Meksen is considered the best pound-for-pound women kickboxer and is a former Glory Kickboxing champion.
In April 2022, ONE had their first special-rules bout between Rodtang Jitmuangnon and Demetrius Johnson. It alternated rounds between Muay Thai and MMA. The upcoming bout between Stamp and Anissa will likely follow the same format.
What We Still Don’t Know
While Chatri’s announcements were jaw-dropping, long-term fight fans, especially those that love five-round stadium rules, have questions left unanswered:
- Will ONE Lumpinee exclusively have three-round entertainment-style fights?
- Will there be other promoters? Will they try to follow in ONE’s footsteps? Or will they still try to promote five-round fights?
- What does the future look like for having Lumpinee champions? Will there still be matches to fight for the legendary titles?
- If ONE Lumpinee promises to pay more than other Lumpinee promoters, will the other promoters have a difficult time getting fighters? Will it, as a consequence, discourage promoters from holding shows at Lumpinee?
- With the Road to ONE shows, how will the bouts be scored? Will all officials need to be from ONE or, at the very least, receive training from ONE?
Implications of Everything
Perhaps the most obvious effect of Chatri’s efforts (starting in 2023) will be that ONE Championship will boast more international talent. Because ONE has only had shows in Asia, most fighters signed to ONE are based in Asia. Partnering up with promoters all over the world means that more top-level fighters will get the opportunity to get to fight for the organization. Countries that aren’t as well-known for their fighters may get the opportunity to shine.
The original Lumpinee Boxing Stadium, with its namesake being around the Lumpini area of Bangkok, opened in 1956. It moved to a new location in 2014. Many argue that, after the move, the stadium lost its spark.
Lumpinee has historically always allowed a select few to promote at the stadium. However, in the past year, it’s undergone many changes. The most prominent change was to allow women to fight in 2020. An equally prominent change was the decision to ban gamblers. The major Thai stadiums were infamous for having signs forbidding women to touch the ring, and Lumpinee was one of them. Stadiums are also usually filled to the brim with gamblers, with very few people in attendance there to watch for entertainment. Prior to allowing MMA fights to take place via Fairtex Fight, Lumpinee only had Muay Thai bouts with the occasional boxing event.
It’s clear that the Royal Thai Army and its folks running Lumpinee are trying, in haste, to modernize the stadium. It seems like an effort to look towards the future, rather than hold onto old traditions and let the stadium’s legendary status wash away with time.
Chatri has remarked that he wishes to bring Muay Thai to “new heights” while establishing Lumpinee as the “Mecca of Muay Thai.” It seems that this landmark partnership will help Lumpinee from going under as the direction of the sport has clearly shifted in the past few years.
However, the future of traditional Muay Thai looks bleak with these announcements. Chatri promising to pay higher purse sizes than other promoters at Lumpinee may discourage others from promoting there. If this is the case, this could mean the end of stadium-rules Muay Thai at Lumpinee, and could have additional domino effects.
Stadium-rules Muay Thai has been the heart and soul of the sport for decades. While gamblers are indeed a double-edged sword, many have provided large monetary incentives for fighters to do well in their fights. These large tips for winning are huge for up-and-coming fighters who aren’t making respectable purses yet. The side bets between the gyms are also another way for fighters to make some extra cash on the side. Although Chatri has promised to pay fighters more (so, by logic, they wouldn’t have to worry so much about the purse sizes and, ergo, the possible tips from gamblers), one promotion per week will not be enough to go around for all the stadium fighters.
If stadium-rules Muay Thai comes to an end, so will the legendary Lumpinee belt that has been revered as an accomplishment that only the top-of-the-top earn.
All that being said, because fighting is done for financial reasons for Thai fighters, the modernization of the stadium with higher purse sizes will have a net positive effect for them. The bottom line is that if they’re making more money, then it is a better situation for them - even if it’s not a positive one for fans of traditional Muay Thai.
Another possible pain point is the inconsistent scoring of Muay Thai outside of Thailand. Many officials simply don’t know what they’re looking at, especially when it comes to the clinch. Some have never trained Muay Thai before in their lives, and even fewer have actually fought. How can the Road to ONE representatives from each country ensure consistency of scoring, and that winners of the tournaments truly deserve that ONE contract?
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