Last week, it was announced that Singapore based martial arts powerhouse ONE Championship had signed a partnership with Global Association of Mixed Martial Arts (GAMMA), an independent governing body for the sport of mixed martial arts.
The goals of this partnership are multifaceted, but the most notable mission of the two organizations is to bring the sport of MMA to the Olympics.
Speaking to BJPenn.com on Wednesday, ONE Championship Chairman and CEO Chatri Sityodtong opened up on this grand plan, and explained how the two united organizations will undertake it.
It all started when Sityodtong was introduced to GAMMA President Alexander Engelhardt by Carlo Di Blasi, the founder of Italian MMA organization Oktagon.
“I met Alex a few months ago through Carlo Di Blasi in Italy,” he recounted. “We realized that our vision and values were aligned. We want to elevate the sport of mixed martial arts to a global standard in terms of conduct, in terms of values, in terms of Olympic standards.
“Because ONE Championship shares the values of integrity, humility, honor, respect, courage, discipline, compassion, much like GAMMA, and the Olympics actually, we thought we could create a big platform and lead the sport of mixed martial arts into the Olympics. That’s how it all started.”
The dream of bringing MMA to the Olympics is not a new one. Other organizations, most notably the UFC-backed International Mixed Martial Arts Federation (IMMAF), have attempted to have the sport recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) previously, but no real headway has been made.
Sityodtong believes that it is the shared values of ONE Championship, GAMMA and the Olympics that give this new partnership a fighting chance.
“Again, I think it’s the alignment of values and vision that are very similar to the Olympics. ONE Championship has the true martial arts values,” he explained. “So does GAMMA. So I think we can pitch a whole different element to the IOC.
“When both ONE Championship and GAMMA share those values and exemplify those values every day, and we’re developing the amateur scene in that manner, and even the professional scene in that manner, I think the whole the whole martial arts ethos comes through.
“That’s why I think the combination of ONE Championship and GAMMA working together will get IOC approval. That’s my dream and I believe that we’re the right team to make it happen.”
Sityodtong also feels that ONE and GAMMA can find success on this mission by following in the footsteps of other Olympic martial arts.
“If you look at the current Olympic martial arts which are judo, karate, taekwondo, boxing, wrestling, it’s because they exemplify the true DNA of the Olympics. That’s why they’re in there,” he said. “We looked at how they succeeded.”
While Sityodtong hopes his team can find success by following in the footsteps of other Olympic martial arts, they may also find themselves receiving pushback from those same martial arts. Historically, there has been objection from some of these sports with respect to MMA gaining Olympic recognition.
The ONE boss believes this pushback is due to the widespread perception of MMA, which is in turn due to the way the the sport is promoted in the West. He feels that ONE Championship, which promotes the sport from an entirely different angle on the other side of the world, will be able to side-step these issues.
“There’s a huge divide between Western promotions, the big promotions, with the Olympics in terms of the ethos and the values,” he explained. “If you’re a traditional martial art, you’ll be against what you see in America in terms of the sport of mixed martial arts. Here in Asia, ONE Championship is in full alignment with all of the traditional martial arts. Not only do we showcase several of them on our shows, but we have great relationships with all of them because of our values as a martial arts organization.
“We’re much more similar to the current Olympic sports that exist in terms of our approach and our values, the way our athletes handle themselves. I think the other Olympic sports are very concerned because of the negative image in the West about MMA.”
Carrying mixed martial arts to the Olympic level will not be easy for Chatri Sityodtong, ONE Championship and GAMMA. With a finely detailed, week-by-week plan, however, the ONE boss is confident it’s doable.
“This is not a loose plan, we have a full on action plan, week-by-week and step-by-step for all of the processes and all the application forms and all the various federations we need to rally,” he said.
Even with the best laid plans, Sityodtong and his team are going to face their fair share of doubters as they undertake this mission. Yet the ONE show runner assures he’s not concerned with the opinions of naysayers.
“I really don’t focus too much on what other people think,” he said. “I just do my best. I do have a track record of strong execution and strong leadership in making things happen that people previously though were impossible. Naysayers, doubters, and haters… I don’t really focus on that.”
Despite what is sure to be a prevalence of doubt surrounding ONE and GAMMA’s goal, there are causes for optimism. Most notably, the IOC has recently shown a rare willingness to welcome new sports to the Olympics. At the Tokyo 2020 games alone, we’ll see five new sports debut: sport climbing, skateboarding, surfing, baseball and karate.
Sityodtong has understandably drawn some motivation from the recent addition of these sports to the Olympics.
“That’s why I decided to go full-on and put my weight behind this,” he said. “I believe I am the right leader to take the sport of mixed martial arts into the Olympics, not only because of my martial arts background but because of what ONE Championship represents and the partnership between ONE and GAMMA.”
With a dream, a plan, and a team poised to execute, Chatri Sityodtong believes he and his compatriots could propel MMA to the Olympic level quite quickly — perhaps as soon as 2028.
“Knock on wood, by 2028, we believe we’ll see the sport of mixed martial arts in the Olympics,” he said. “It’s possible it will be earlier than that.”
Should Sityodtong and his team achieve this mammoth the goal, the satisfaction and happiness he’ll derive from their success will be immeasurable.
“Imagine a world where Demetrious Johnson also has an Olympic gold medal, or Sage Northcutt having an Olympic gold medal in addition to all the other legendary achievements — their soon-to-be achievements in ONE Championship and their prior achievements in the UFC,” he said.
“I’m a lifelong martial artist, and while I’ve never competed in mixed martial arts, I’ve competed in Muay Thai,” he added. “I’ve given my whole life to martial arts and nothing would make me happier. It would be a dream come true to get the sport of mixed martial arts into the Olympics.”
Do you think Chatri Sityodtong, Alexander Engelhardt, ONE Championship and GAMMA can pull this feat off?
This article first appeared on BJPENN.COM on 4/24/2019.