At ONE: Century, the promotion will showcase a combat sports doubleheader of immense proportions. Many championships will be on the line, and Grand Prix tournaments will conclude.
Few have a greater understanding of ONE’s talent, and major storylines at the two events than the organization’s play-by-play voice Michael Schiavello. In this exclusive, “The Voice” gave his thoughts on key storylines occurring at the event going down on October 13.
A Clash of Legendary Japanese Promotions, Under ONE’s Umbrella
Before Pride Fighting Championships, before Dream, and before Rizin, Japanese mixed martial arts was spearheaded by two specific promotions. Pancrase and Shooto.
Both organizations’ roots start in the early to mid-1990s when the sport was in its earliest stages. Although the aforementioned promotions surpassed Pancrase and Shooto in notoriety at certain points in the sport’s history, both promotions endured and remained entrenched in Japanese martial arts. It is what makes what is happening at ONE: Century – Part II all the more historic.
In an occurrence that has never happened before in the industry, the champions of two different promotions will face each other under a third promotion’s banner, as strawweight, bantamweight, lightweight and welterweight champions will battle in dream matchups Japanese fans thought they would never see. With many of the competitors—such as Takasuke Kume, Koshi Matsumoto and Shoko Sato—being stalwarts of the Asian fight scene.
It is a rare moment that has the veteran of 30 years in the combat sports industry excited to see and call the action on October 13.
“Shooto and Pancrase have produced some of the greatest MMA athletes in history,” says Schiavello.
“To have champion versus champion from these two different promotions, it’s almost like for wrestling fans from back in the day to see WCW versus WWE. Japanese fans are absolutely salivating over the prospect of seeing Shooto’s best against Pancrase’s best. You’re going to get so many answers that fans have dreamed over in bars, and at dinners together. ‘What would happen if this Shooto champion [faced] this Pancrase champion? Oh, but it will never happen.’ But it is happening. Just like when we used to fantasize if Goldberg fought ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin back in 1999. I think that’s what’s so exciting about it. That these two great Japanese promotions are going to have the balls to pit their best against each other under a different promotions banner. Where does that happen? This is historic.”
Continued Expansion into India
Earlier this year, ONE Championship crossed another milestone in their plans to expand the brand beyond Asia. In March, the organization signed a partnership with Indian broadcast Network Star Sports and streaming app Hotstar.
The promotion has worked hard in the last couple of years to identify and develop talent that would appeal to a market that is one of the most populated on the planet and could be a massive source of growth.
Indian athletes like Rajinder Singh Meena, Puja Tomar, and Himanshu Kaushik fit the need for Indian athletes, but have not had much success in the ONE Championship Circle. However, the organization has found upside in two Canadian fighters with strong lineage to India.
Gary Mangat is one, and so far, he has shown great potential. Winning both of his appearances for the organization. The other is a Canadian national wrestling champion. Over 10 professional bouts, Arjan “Singh” Bhullar has only faltered once, and he is the rare competitor that left the UFC of his own accord, and on a high note — having won two-straight after a 3-1 stint in the company before hitting free agency.
Schiavello has spoken with the heavyweight who joined ONE Championship in July, and in their discussions, Bhullar intimated how ONE represented everything he was looking for in a new promotional home.
“I spoke to him about it a couple of shows ago,” Schiavello remembers.
“[Bhullar] goes, ‘the reason I left UFC was that they didn’t have any push in the Indian market. They had no push, no plan for the Indian market. ONE spoke to me, and I could see their plan was clear for the Indian market. The TV that they’re on is the one to be on in India. They are doing everything right, and I want to be the guy leading that charge.’”
Heavyweight combat athletes often get the attention of mainstream sports fans that many other weights don’t. That is a truth the world over. Unlike the aforementioned Meena, Tomar, and Kaushik, Bhullar has proven his mettle at the highest level.
Moreover, as a man that embraces his Indian lineage, he has all the makings of a breakout star in the market. As well as a possible headliner for the organization’s first event in India. Something Schiavello claims will be coming in 2020.
“It’s important for ONE to be able to bring up Indian stars. To have an Indian fighter flying the flag in the heavyweight division would be huge for ONE,” says Schiavello.
Before Bhullar can start heading towards superstar potential in India, he must get through a former heavyweight title contender in Mauro Cerilli. In March, the Italian bounced back from a crushing first-round defeat at the hands of Brandon Vera in November. Another win gets him a step closer to a second crack at the heavyweight strap. Beating a highly touted free agent signing, in their promotional debut, would go a long way in raising his divisional status.
This heavyweight scrap could prove hugely beneficial for the winner’s career trajectory, but Schiavello feels the bout itself is a benefit to combat sports fans looking for an entertaining matchup in Tokyo.
“I think this is a fight designed for excitement,” he says.
“You’ve got two big guys who can throw with heavy power. I think it’s going to guarantee a finish. I don’t think it’s going to go the three rounds. I think when ONE was making this match; I think they were thinking these are two heavyweights known for finishing opponents. Let’s get them in there and give fans a real good heavyweight scrap in Japan. The Japanese always like that.”