Demetrious Johnson happy to be getting the respect he deserves in One Championship; new stars to get first chance in 2019 Grand Prix series
- ‘Mighty Mouse’ to make his debut in new year series
- American will also be One’s e-sports ambassador
“I spent seven years in North America and I truly feel like the North American crowd does not appreciate the athletes, the martial artists,” Johnson said. “In Asia, you guys appreciate true martial artists.”
Despite a stellar career that has included the UFC flyweight title and a remarkable (and record) 11 title defences, Johnson’s legions of global fans have often questioned a perceived lack of proper attention given to their hero.
Johnson said he had always previously felt uncomfortable with the “drama” needed outside the cage to capture fans’ attention in the UFC, and the move to One would allow him to focus on what he does best – fighting.
“[In North America] it’s about ruffling feathers, creating chaos,” Johnson said. “That’s not what I am about.”
One has shaken up the MMA world with the signing of Johnson (27-3-1), widely regarded as among the top pound-for-pound fighters in the history of the sport, along with that of former UFC lightweight champion Eddie “The Underground King” Alvarez (29-6-1).
And fans in Asia won’t have too long before they see both fighters in the flesh, in the cage and up against the region’s best with One announcing it would stage eight-man flyweight and lightweight Grand Prix tournaments across 2019 to give their new stars a crack at winning titles in their respective divisions.
“The best fight the best and there’s no guy getting an easy run or whatever, no one is favoured,” Alvarez said. “It means I won’t sleep solid for the whole year, but I enjoy life like that.”
One has rolled out its big guns in the lead-up to its Heart of the Lion card at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on Friday night. The organisation presented Johnson and Alvarez for the first time since their shock moves and leaned on combat sports legend Renzo Gracie to help pump up publicity.
Also conspicuous by his presence in Singapore has been rising welterweight star Sage “Super” Northcutt (11-2). The Texas-born 22-year-old became a free agent after ending his UFC career on a 3-0 run and is reportedly in discussions with One management as he explores his future options.
One chairman and CEO Chatri Sityodtong has also this week announced plans for expansion away from the cage through an adventurous US$50 million plan forged with the likes of Singapore billionaire Min-Liang Tan’s Razer gaming group to form a global e-sports championship series.
The move was music to Johnson’s ears as, when he is not training or in the cage, the American is among the most high-profile online gamers in the world, with tens of thousands of followers on his Twitch platform. He will now become the new e-sports league’s “brand ambassador.”
“A mix of MMA and e-sports – this is like a dream to me,” Johnson said.
Attention now turns to One’s Friday night card, being headlined by the clash between Brazilian bantamweight title-holder Bibiano “The Flash” Fernandes (22-3) and challenger Kevin “The Silencer” Belingon (19-5) of the Philippines.