MMA: One Championship TNT Series a 'good start' overall, but Chatri 'not satisfied' by US TV ratings

Eddie Alvarez (left) lost to Ok Rae-Yoon via unanimous decision in their lightweight battle in One Championship's One on TNT IV event on April 29, 2021.
Eddie Alvarez (left) lost to Ok Rae-Yoon via unanimous decision in their lightweight battle in One Championship's One on TNT IV event on April 29, 2021.PHOTO: ONE CHAMPIONSHIP

SINGAPORE - A shock loss for a legend, a wild knockout and a champion dethroned.

Mixed martial arts (MMA) organisation One Championship ended its month-long foray into the North American market on Thursday (April 29) with its fourth event in four weeks, One on TNT IV, with as many talking points as it started.

The event, like the three others in the One on TNT series which preceded it, was held at the Singapore Indoor Stadium in the morning so it could be aired in the United States on prime time on American television network TNT.

In the main event of One on TNT IV, Myanmar fighter Aung La N Sang lost his One light heavyweight world title to Dutchman Reinier de Ridder in a unanimous decision. This meant de Ridder became just the third fighter - after N Sang and Australian-Vietnamese fighter Martin Nguyen - to hold two One world titles simultaneously, after he also beat N Sang for his middleweight title in October 2020.

Elsewhere on the card, American MMA legend Eddie Alvarez suffered a unanimous decision loss to South Korean Ok Rae-yoon after five rounds. Alvarez, a former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and Bellator champion, had been disqualified in a fight with Iuri Lapicus at the One on TNT 1 event on April 7, but the result was later overturned and ruled a no-contest.

There was also a bizarre win for Belarusian fighter Kirill Grishenko over Senegalese upstart Oumar Kane, with Grishenko throwing the knockout punch right as the bell signifying the end of the second round was rung.

One Championship chief executive Chatri Sityodtong said that while he felt the One on TNT IV event did not rank among one of One's best events, the series of events in April was a "good introduction of One to American fans".

He added: "They got a peek at some of our athletes and got a look at an entirely unique, differentiated product and brand… Overall, I would say it's a good start."

One's different rule set has also generated plenty of discussion online from American fans.

For example a grounded knee - which is illegal in the UFC but legal in One - was what Adriano Moraes used to knock out ex-UFC champion Demetrious Johnson in the One on TNT 1 event. In addition, One's MMA bouts are judged in their entirety and not scored round-by-round like in boxing or the UFC.

The ratings for the One on TNT series events have fluctuated. After drawing an average of 196,000 viewers for the first show, they saw an almost 70 per cent jump to 337,000 for the second, but dropped to 290,000 for the third.

Chatri said: "I'm not satisfied by our TV ratings in any sense… (but ) I'm grateful our numbers are already stronger than Bellator's and PFL's (Professional Fighters League), so that makes us the No. 2 player in North America (behind UFC).

"So let's see what happens with our discussions with TNT and our partners in the United States."

PFL's most recent event PFL 1, which aired on April 23, had an average viewership of 156,000 while Bellator's most recent show, Bellator 257 on April 16, reportedly had fewer than 150,000.

On One's ratings, Dr Seshan Ramaswami, associate professor of marketing education at the Singapore Management University, noted that an increase in audience is a good sign but added that it was difficult to draw conclusions from the growth.

He added that there could be many reasons the ratings over three weeks do not follow "a clear trend line", such as the quality of the lead-in programme each week, amount of advertising on TNT and online over the period and specific One Championship match-ups each week.

Dr Ramaswami said that a televised live fight series like One Championship should aim for a much higher American TV audience rating than what it has gotten so far.

"Promoting the personalities and life stories of the key contenders, some of whom may be unknown to American (audiences) will be key, as will be education on the rules of One Championship and how they are different from the UFC series," he said.

"Overall, it is a good start... and points to the potential for other (One) fight series to build an American audience."