ONE Championship launched in 2011 with the goal of “featuring the best Asian fighters.” To date, the promotion has hosted 41 events in nine different countries and will make its debut in Thailand later this month. Despite impressive growth and expansion, at times the level of competition seems relatively stagnant. Is this the case?
To examine the talent level in ONE Championship, let’s review all 41 events in company history. For each event, let’s average the Quarterly Generated Historical Ranking of each participant and repeat the process with the fighters’ Highest Quarterly Ranking. These two composite event rankings will gives us an idea of the level of competition from both a contemporary and historical perspective. If a fighter was not ranked, they were assigned a rank of 600, which equals the lowest possible ranking in the current system.
As you can see, for the most part the average contemporary and historical ranking per event has fallen over time. That is to say, the overall level of competition for ONE Championship events is actually trending downward.
Expansion seems to be one of the key factors in this decline. A large part of the promotion’s expansion philosophy appears to include almost forcibly featuring local fighters. Some of the events with the lowest rankings are mostly composed of tournaments featuring native fighters with less than five professional fights.
The influx of inexperience fighters from underdeveloped fighting scenes would explain an overall dilution of ranking, but that should not affect the level of competition in main events. However, when we repeat the process for only main event fights, we see a similar decline. If we compare the average main event ranks to Bellator, another promotion dealing with the UFC’s domination in terms of talent. It is clear that ONE Championship main events are much less consistent and regularly lower ranked than those of Bellator. For this chart, we focused only on the average Highest Quarterly Ranking of the two main event fighters for the last 41 cards for each promotion.
With a few noteworthy exceptions, such as Shinya Aoki, Bibiano Fernandes and Ben Askren, ONE Championship has not been a major player in terms of free agency. Instead, the promotion has focused on developing undervalued, undiscovered or homegrown talent. At times, this plan has fizzled. Early on they appeared to be pushing Eduard Folayang as the face of the company, but he could not win consistently enough to earn a title shot. With that being said, this past week, the promotion crowned 19-year-old prodigy Angela Lee as the first atomweight champion in ONE history. In less than a full year as a professional, she has earned a top 20 ranking. The methodical approach to raising the talent level might turn out for the best even if it has not worked out yet.
Richard Mann currently runs the data-driven MMA blog StrikeScoreMMA.com