Now that the curtain has come down on ONE Championship’s 2018 schedule, fans can begin to look ahead to what 2019 has in store for them. The upcoming year looks set to be a blockbuster for the Asian martial arts powerhouse, and we are all invited along for the ride.
Here are five reasons for fans to excited about 2019.
The Flyweight and Lightweight Grand Prix Tournaments
Say the words Grand Prix tournament and watch how quickly the ears of mixed martial art fans pick up. In 2019, ONE will have not one but two tournaments – flyweight and lightweight – running throughout the course of the year.
If this news was not enough to get the juices flowing, the tournaments will also double as the laying out of the welcome mats for two of the company’s star recruits.
Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson and Eddie “The Underground King” Alvarez will make their heavily-anticipated ONE Championship debuts in the flyweight and lightweight tournaments respectively.
The idea of Johnson, arguably the best pound-for-pound martial artist on the planet, facing off against the likes of Geje “Gravity” Eustaquio and Adriano “Mikinho” Moraes is a dream come true for ONE fans. Likewise, who would not want to see “ The Underground King” trading leather with Ev Ting or the rampaging Saygid Guseyn Arslanaliev.
Whichever way the tournaments unfold you can guarantee that with 16 of the best athletes in the world competing, there will be no dull moments.
The Return of Angela Lee and Martin Nguyen
The second half of 2018 saw ONE Women’s Atomweight World Champion Angela Lee and ONE Featherweight World Champion Martin Nguyen struck down by injuries, which sent them for a spell on the sidelines.
Both athletes suffered as the result of their absence, Nguyen was forced to vacate his lightweight title, while Lee had her opportunity at becoming a two-division champion taken away from her.
As disappointing as it has been having these two athletes out of action, the knowledge that both will return in 2019 will warm the hearts of fans.
Lee has unfinished business in the strawweight division as well as a slew of new contenders waiting for a crack at her atomweight title.
Nguyen should hopefully return early next year, and fans will wait with bated breath to see who the Vietnamese-Australian next shares the cage with next.
Entry into the Japanese market
Mixed martial arts in Japan has had a tough time gaining mainstream traction since the demise of PRIDE. The country still produces top-flight athletes and memorable shows, but the sport has dropped a few rungs on the ladder of public popularity in recent years.
However, all going to plan next year, ONE will make an effort to revive broader public interest in mixed martial arts in the Land of the Rising Sun.
Having teamed up with Dentsu, one of Japan’s largest advertising companies, and having signed a streaming deal with AbemaTV. It would be fair to say ONE is not merely dipping their toes but is diving headfirst into the Japanese market.
How it turns out remains to be seen, but the thought of the sleeping giant that is Japanese mixed martial arts fully reawakening is an exciting one.
Sage Northcutt’s ONE debut
The signing of “ Super” Sage Northcutt was just one more surprise in a year already filled with them. The 22-year-old American athlete has all the hallmarks of a genuine global superstar.
Northcutt comes into ONE Championship with an 11-2 mixed martial arts record, riding a three-bout winning streak.
The Texas native has competed as both a lightweight and welterweight. It remains to be seen which division he contends in under the ONE banner, but there are compelling matchups up for him in either division.
There is no set date for when he will first make his appearance in the ONE Championship cage but when he does expect a flurry of media and fan attention.
This year saw the arrival of the Super Series, ONE’s first foray into boxing, and a number of superstar signings. It seemed that each month the company made another headline-generating announcement.
ONE Championship’s Chairman and CEO Chatri Sityodtong has repeatedly mentioned that the company is engaged in negotiations with numerous athletes and hinted that there are more big announcements coming in the future.
If mixed martial art fans have learned anything this year, it’s that when Sityodtong says big announcement, he usually means big announcement.
The arrival of the likes of Johnson and Alvarez could be a start of a new wave of talent joining the promotion, but it’s not just new signings that will keep fans guessing as to what is to come next. The ONE matchmakers put together a smorgasbord of stellar bouts this year, and it will be interesting seeing what they will put together over the next 12 months.
It has been suggested that ONE Middleweight and Lightweight World Champion Aung La N Sang could defend his light heavyweight strap against ONE Heavyweight World Champion Brandon Vera.
If the bout does go ahead, it would be one of the most anticipated clashes in the company’s history.
There is no telling what is coming down the pipeline next year and perhaps, for fans, of all the reason to get excited, that is the one that should top their list.
What do you expect from ONE Championship in 2019?
This article first appeared on BJPENN.COM on 12/10/2018.