A remarkable show in a remarkable city; ONE Championship’s ‘A New Era’ lives up to expectations as the promotions biggest show to date.
March 27th 2019: Just a week removed from an epic night at UFC London, I was fortunate enough to head over to Asia for the chance of a lifetime, to witness ONE Championship’s debut show ‘A new Era’ in the birthplace of martial arts, Japan.
After a 13 hour flight – added to a snowy layover in Helsinki – we arrive in the Japanese Capitol of Tokyo, feeling excited, tired, and a little jet lagged. There’s no time to rest though. The ‘New Era’ press conference begins in just a few hours, and with the ONE Championship team rolling out a number of high profile stars we couldn’t miss it.
The event, a press conference akin to the style we have become used to from the UFC in recent years, with all competitors on the stage taking questions from the media, was just enough to get those in attendance hyped for the four title fights on offer at this show. You won’t find any trash talking here though, as with most Asian promotions the emphasis with ONE lies in respect and honour towards your opponent in the build up to a fight.
A sentiment echoed by ONE Championship’s CEO Chatri Sityodtong, who tells me, “I think ONE Championship is the most authentic platform in the world by far. I just feel the West has misportrayed and damaged the words martial arts, and I’m here to bring it back.”
But who is the man who in only seven years raised ONE Championship into being one of the biggest MMA promotions in the world?
A self made businessman, Sityodtong is a life long martial artist and entrepreneur. Born of mixed Thai and Japanese heritage, it is clear from the moment we meet, the passion he has for the company, and his determination to push ONE and it’s unique set of principles as far as they can go. Not just to all of Asia, but also on a global scale.
He tells me that the company still has a lot of growing to do. He also tells me that with a card featuring no less than four title fights, and the debuts of Eddie Alvarez and Demetrious Johnson, that this won’t just be the biggest card in ONE Championship history, but the biggest MMA card of all time. We leave the conference with much food for thought, and high expectations for the weekend of fights ahead.
With media duties done we head out to explore the vibrant, eccentric, and often futuristic city of Tokyo. It is truly one of the most interesting places I have ever visited, and with its world-class infrastructure as a popular tourist destination, and a rich culture steeped in martial arts history, Japan is a perfect location to watch fighting.
Highlights included a visit to Yoyogi Park’s Meiji shrine, as well as the bustling shopping and nightlife hotspots of Harajuku and Shinjuku. I would also highly recommend heading down to the Shibuya crossing to get a selfie at the largest intersection in the world. Nowhere quite epitomises the bustle of Tokyo better than a crossing where up to 3000 people can cross the busy juncture at any one time.
Other sites of interest for tourists include the unmissable Tokyo Skytree and famous Tokyo Tower.
For gamers, Akihabara AKA electric town is a surreal section of the city, fully dedicated to Anime, and gaming.
While the sheer size of the city can be intimidating at times, Tokyo is known for its excellent train and bus services. These can be a saviour in comparison to the often extortionate taxi fares. Whatever your reason for travelling to Tokyo, there is a certain sense of adventure and charm to the Japanese culture that will make any trip worthwhile.
Fans around ONE’s ‘A New Era’ were able to meet and interact with a number of familiar faces on fight week, including John Dannaher, Vitor Belfort, and Mark Henry, who all stayed at the official fighters’ hotel.
I was also able to catch up with former UFC champion Rafael Dos Anjos, in the days leading up to the event, to talk about his pending high profile match up with Kevin Lee.
As fight week wraps up and we make our way to the event I am reminded, there is no experience in sport quite like watching an evening of live fights. The drama and spectacle are beyond comparison in my opinion. As we drive into the world famous Ryōgoku Kokugikan Sumo Hall, past the thousands of queuing fans, we are all hopeful Tokyo can deliver on the promise of being the best ONE Championship card to date…