Last March, ONE Championship held its first-ever show in Japan. The promotion left no stone unturned for their Japan debut, held at Tokyo’s Ryogoku Sumo Hall. They featured their new signings — Demetrious Johnson and Eddie Alvarez — in the stacked card, which also saw Angela Lee and Eduard Folayang in action. But the story of that night was the debut of the two former UFC champions. They are two of ONE’s priciest and most high-profile investments, along with Sage Northcutt. So it made sense to showcase them right away.
That night Alvarez suffered a stunning TKO by the unheralded Russian Timofey Nastyukhin. In contrast Johnson got the job done. Although he looked uncomfortable early on against Yuya Wakamatsu, Johnson found his bearings in round 2, and got Wakamatsu to submit by a guillotine. Johnson followed the win with a unanimous decision victory over Tatsumitsu Wada at ONE Championship: Dawn of Heroes last August. Then this October, at ONE: Century, Johnson won the Flyweight Grand Prix by beating the Philippines’ Danny Kingad via unanimous decision. With these trio of wins, it might be fair to ask: Can DJ become a ONE Championship icon?
The answer is yes. Johnson was the standard bearer of the UFC’s flyweight division. He defended his belt a record 11 consecutive times. He cleaned out that division, with wins over MMA notables like Henry Cejudo, Joseph Benavidez, and John Dodson. He will likely replicate that success at ONE. He already has the Flyweight Grand Prix championship to his name.
Johnson will get to prove his greatness again, possibly next year, in a Demetrious Johnson vs. Adriano Moraes blockbuster title fight. But given the quality of opposition DJ has dismissed in the UFC, chances are he will be able to handle Moraes, too. If anything, the big stage might pose more of a challenge for Johnson. After his debut Johnson admitted to feeling nervous fighting in Japan. “Chatri [Sityodtong, One CEO] said, ‘Oh you looked a little bit tight’ — yeah I was tight!” Johnson said. “It’s a big stage for me.” Then again he already aced his biggest ONE test to date at ONE: Century, which was held at the Ryōgoku Kokugikan in Tokyo.
His championship fight with Moraes, though, will likely be even bigger. That’s because ONE Championship is the face of the sport in Asia. It is the largest MMA promotion in the continent. It is also growing rapidly. Last year ONE registered over 5 billion social media and digital video views on all platforms, up from 312,000 views in 2014. Moreover the promotion now has over 14 million subscribers on Facebook, 3 million on Instagram, and 1 million on Twitter. That means millions in Asia will be tuning in when ONE’s most recognisable and pedigreed (not to mention highest paid) fighter competes for the flyweight title. Many will likely be placing bets, too, as wagering on combat sports is popular in Asia. A number of these fans will register with 1xbet, so they can wager on the different fights. As Johnson-Moraes will be for the title, it will surely generate massive interest. Fans, in particular, will be paying close attention to Johnson. He is ONE’s marquee name, and its most high profile acquisition. He will also be the favourite to beat the Brazilian.
There is really no question that Johnson will be an icon of ONE. He has the talent and the pedigree, and is already on his way there, as evidenced by his early 3-0 streak for ONE.
Roberto Villa is the CEO, Executive Writer, Senior Editor of FightBook MMA. Has a passion for Combat Sports and also a podcast host for Sitting Ringside. He’s also a former MMA fighter and Kickboxer.
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