ONE FC had a summit to resurrect the Asian MMA scene, and here’s what went down

I saw Newt Gingrich checking in at the same hotel I stayed at for the ONE FC summit last weekend. When I told my political buddy about the encounter, he wanted me to validate my statement with photographic evidence. Dude, it was Newt Gingrich. The only way I would take a picture of that guy is if he juggled newborn kittens while riding a unicycle. Anything less and I wouldn’t be impressed. Back in 2011, Gingrich praised Singapore’s ‘Draconian’ drug enforcement laws which, as you probably know, states that any drug possession is punishable by death in the country. While extreme, that will make all these fighters think twice about using TRT the next time they’re in the Far East.

We’ve all seen the degradation of the Asian MMA scene over the years. If you’ve been following the international scene like the knowledgeable MMA fan that you claim to be, this is nothing new to you. With Pride’s closure in 2007, Korea’s Spirit FC closing shop the following year, Sengoku shutting down just hours before the 2011 typhoon/earthquake that ravished the country of Japan, the banning of MMA in Thailand earlier this year, and now FEG declaring bankruptcy just last month — it’s safe to say the Asian MMA scene has been in a vegetative state for years.

When ONE FC emerged from Singapore in July 2011, I wrote an article that compared the power the rising MMA organization held to Marvel’s Infinity Gauntlet. A lot of you didn’t understand what some claimed to be ‘the longest nerd metaphor in MMA history,’ but now that The Avengers was released last month and Thanos was featured after the rolling credits, who’s laughing now? The fact still remains, ONE FC holds the most powerful position in Asian MMA, and one could argue perhaps the world. Of course, the latter is based on regional projections economists assume Asia will obtain in the near future. That may be a little too much to take in right now. Let’s just say ONE FC has all the potential in the MMA world, and at last week’s ONE FC summit, I was there to witness how these guys plan to inject the Asian MMA scene with some much needed adrenaline.

The ONE FC Summit opened up at 9:00 am on June 2nd with a keynote speech by the CEO of ONE FC, Victor Cui. The phrase ‘road to growth’ seemed to be the reoccurring theme within his speech and an emphasis was placed on learning from the success of the other sports that did well in the Asian region (F1, baseball, golf…etc). Locally relevant, regionally applicable business was another point which also fed into the third and final subject of his speech: the need to build Asian superstars. Through the ONE FC network (which is a collection of fight promoters and gyms in the Asian region), Victor Cui made it clear that ‘homegrown’ stars need to be produced in order create ‘icons’ in their respective country and eventually bring fighters to a global level. Needless to say, regional fans would also have a vested emotional connection to the sport only if they could identify a local superstar competing on the international stage. Victor then wrapped up his keynote speech with the desire to expand the ONE FC summit to other countries next year and even hold the first Asian MMA expo perhaps by the end of 2012.

Next up on the panel was Chatri Sityodtong, the owner of Evolve MMA, undoubtedly the largest MMA/BJJ gym currently in Asia. He used the metaphor that the Asian MMA scene was the equivalent of a frog under a coconut shell. Sure it’s sustaining itself within the confine of an isolated environment, but there’s an entire world out there that’s yet to be seen. I’m assuming the frog in the example was the MMA industry, but it could have been the standard MMA fan. I’m not entirely sure, but I was craving frog legs sauteed in coconut milk for the remainder of the day. Chatri then went on to state a variety of statistics regarding the budding MMA scene in Asia and how it will correlate to the growth of the region in the near future. The ecosystem analogy was also used, with an emphasis that the media, gyms and organizations need to all be operating in full cognition of each other in order to make this thing work. He then went on to state the only way MMA can rise in Asia is if a high level of professionalism is conducted throughout the arduous process. Chatri then mentioned that people involved in the Asian industry have to separate themselves from gang mentality and tattoos — he then looked at my arms and restated that tattoos are cool, but the Yakuza is what they should stay away from. Sityodtong wrapped-up his presentation by stating ONE FC has to be the UFC of Asia and become a global force throughout the sports world.

Bubbles Aguilar, the co-owner of URCC (the longest running promotion in Asia), was next on the dais for the ONE FC summit. She opened up with a pretty slick highlight reel showcasing what MMA from the Philippines had to offer. Guys like Eduard Folayang, Eric Kelly and Honorio Banario were the focus of the URCC clip (and deservedly so). After the highlight was over, Bubbles emphasized that URCC is going in its tenth year of operation and that being a part of the ONE FC network validated them in the MMA industry. Bubbles also mentioned that to alleviate the inherent beef between fighters, promoters and gyms within the Philippines, URCC hosted parties complete with open bars to bring the industry together. The owners of URCC also formed an athletic management division which gives Filipino fighters representation on a global stage, something that I’m almost certain Dana White is a huge advocate of within the UFC. Speaking of the organization, Bubbles stated that once the URCC started to grow, her goal was to get the first Filipino superstar inside the UFC. However now, the focus is doing the same but only with ONE FC.

The head of Korea’s Road FC, Moon Hong Jung, got up on stage and did a short presentation — however I couldn’t understand anything he said. Granted, his English was still better than my Korean, so an innumerable amount of props to him for even trying. After Jung, Luke Pezzutti, the owner of Cage Fighting Championship, the same organization that Brian Ebersole and Hector Lombard had their epic brawl back in September 12th 2008 got on stage. Sure, an Australian encouraging the development of Asian MMA may seem nonsensical to many that have never taken a high-school geography class in their life, but a flight from Perth, Australia to Jakarta, Indonesia is less than five hours. Now compare that to the sixteen hours it takes to get from the mean streets of West Linn, Oregon to Singapore. It’s pretty obvious that Australia and New Zealand have a vested interest in the development of MMA in the Asian region since both industries have somewhat of a symbiotic relationship. It’s also important to note that Australia’s CFC signed a TV deal with FOX Sports back in 2006, making them one of the first promotions (aside from IFL) to ink a deal with the network. Luke Pezzutti also said that while a ‘grass roots’ effort is needed to reinvigorate the Asian MMA scene, traditionally the sport suffers from a lack of sanctioning by various national sport authorities. This needs to be addressed before any growth can occur in Asia.

After the promoters finished on stage, Matt Hume stepped up and dropped beautiful fight science on the entire audience. First off, no one knew that Matt Hume’s father had private sessions with Bruce Lee. That’s beyond amazing.

Hume focused on building amateur talent through smaller regional shows in Asia and ‘smokers.’ If you’ve never heard of the term, essentially gyms host in-house fights between training partners or other gyms in which an audience of fans and friends are invited to spectate. Certain rules may be agreed upon prior to the bout to protect the safety of fighters, anything from no-elbows to strictly grappling matches. Hume then stated once a fighter has developed the fundamentals through smokers, they should participate in ‘feeder’ shows; he then used Josh Barnett’s bouts in Superbrawl 13 back in 1999 as an example. He also encouraged that boxers, wrestlers and other combat sport athletes that are transitioning into MMA should continue to compete in the field they excel it. For example, even though Alistair Overeem is competing in MMA, he was still maintaining and crafting his kickboxing expertise through K-1 events up until he signed with UFC in 2011.

In the next section of his presentation, Hume called the UFC rule set ‘antiquated and ignorant.’ He then stated the entire 12-6 elbow banning makes absolutely no sense, and if it was socially appropriate to give him a standing ovation in the middle of the conference, I would have. For those that aren’t familiar with the striking technique, a 12-6 elbow is when a fighter lifts his/her elbow and drops it straight down, mimicking the position of the ’12’ and ‘6’ on a clock. It’s the same ‘illegal’ movement that granted the UFC light heavyweight champion a ridiculous disqualification against Matt Hamill at The Ultimate Fighter: Heavyweights Finale on December 5th 2009.

With the discrepancies of the unified and Pride rule set out the way, we finally got a better understanding as to how the ONE FC rule set operates. Matt Hume broke down the ‘open attack’ rule utilized in ONE FC that states soccer kicks are allowed only if the fighter that’s on the ground is in a position to defend. When the rule is in effect, the referee will literally yell ‘open attack,’ giving the fighter the chance to dominate their opponent with soccer kicks and stomps. Hume then stated what we all already knew: the ten-point must system is garbage and has no place within mixed martial arts.

Hume broke down ONE FC’s ‘Five Distinct Ranked Criteria’ that he created, something so logical that it makes me want to dart off into the corner of my room and cry tears of absolute joy.

The ‘Five Distinct Ranked Criteria (FDRC)’ that ONE FC uses is defined by:

  • 1.) Near KO or submission
  • 2.) Damage
  • 3.) Striking combinations
  • 4.) Takedowns and defense
  • 5.) Aggression

The criteria on the list descends in order of importance, which is vastly important. The greatest way to understand this new judging criteria is to apply it to a controversial decision, oh let’s say…Nick Diaz vs. Carlos Condit at UFC 143. Under the ONE FC rules, Nick Diaz engaging his opponent in order to finish him holds the highest importance compared to any other criteria on the list. Damage would also be factored in, along with striking combinations. Condit’s tactic of peppering a punch while backing up throughout the fight would not bode well under these guidelines. Next we have takedowns and defense, which may be scored in Condit’s favor since he stuffed four out of Diaz’s six attempted takedowns that night. Finally, we have aggression, a category Nick Diaz has never lost in since he graduated the third grade with a black eye. As you can see, the result of this bout from the ‘Ten-Point Must System’ to the ‘Five Distinct Ranked Criteria’ would be drastically different.

Hume also used an example of how an effective wrestler could utilize the FDRC system. While takedowns are impressive, as a judge, Hume would score a slam takedown that causes damage and is intended to knockout the opponent more than your typical double and single-leg takedown. From a fan perspective, it’s clear the FDRC system calls for a more entertaining and thrilling MMA experience.

While there were a few other presentations that wrapped up the first day of the ONE FC summit, including speeches by Carl’s Jr and Tiger Beer, the only other notable item was from Team Lakay founder, Mark Sangiao, who said he trains fighters through high-elevation which consists of running on top of a mountain in the Philippines while harvesting fresh fruit and vegetables grown from their own land. That is a baller, folks. In fact, his Team Lakay gym gets a link-back from MiddleEasy just for that epic statement.

The second day of the ONE FC summit seemed to be a little less informal, and far shorter. The focus of the day was to facilitate the growth of gyms in the Asian region along with the announcement of an amateur MMA circuit ONE FC will create in Asia in the future. Actually, a lot of things were announced, including China’s first amateur organization as reported on stage by MMA-in-Asia. It was also announced that ONE FC wants to do another summit in six months with 500 attendees. We all were pretty blown away to also learn that ONE FC plans to do eighteen events in 2013. It was also confirmed that ONE FC’s next card in Singapore will be held on October 6th 2012.

Whew, what a thorough wrap-up. I’ve reached my word limit for the rest of the evening. If anyone wants to communicate with me, it will have to be through inaudible grunts and hand gestures. In summary, we all know that the Asian MMA scene won’t fully mature overnight. Realistically, the region is looking at a 5-7 year time frame before we truly see Asian superstars gain the same notoriety of their western counterparts in the UFC. I will still stand by my overly geeky metaphor that ONE FC holds the Infinity Gauntlet, and how they use their influence within Asia will solely determine how MMA develops within the continent and across the planet.

Also, Jason Chambers did a stellar job hosting the ONE FC summit and he has really good hair. Follow him on Twitter for those two reasons.

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