Is One Championship ruining or saving Muay Thai? It’s on every Muay Thai fan’s mind.
There is so much talk about whether or not One is ruining Muay Thai or saving it. So many differing opinions about the way they are going about it. What are their intentions and where they are going with Muay Thai? What do all of the changes they bring to the traditional Muay Thai format mean for the future? How will it change Muay Thai? Will it ruin Muay Thai? Will it make Muay Thai better? Is it just what Muay Thai needed? Is it a blessing in disguise or a curse that will change Muay Thai for the worse? So many questions and speculations.
When I opened Double Dose Muay Thai in 1990 there was only one other Muay Thai gym in California which was Muay Thai Academy North Hollywood. Run and owned by Thai people. No other foreigners had gyms in California. And look at things now! So many great gyms all over the state and for that matter all over the country! Back in those days there was no internet, streaming or social media. But now with Facebook, Instagram, Tic Toc, Twitter and all of the other Social Media platforms information about Muay Thai is everywhere! So many people know about Muay Thai now. It’s even been a long time since someone called up my gym and asked if we had Pad Thai. In those days we dreamed of a day where Muay Thai would be popular, where it would be recognized on a world stage, where fighters would get paid and could have a career as a Muay Thai athlete. Be careful what you wish for. It doesn’t always look like you think it should.
I grew up involved in Muay Thai since I was 6 years old. I have seen and been a part of its evolution in America for many years. I have witnessed the changes that have grown Muay Thai throughout the USA. There have been many contributors each doing their part and what they thought was best for the sport. Our growth has been very slow but steady. We have seen progress. We now have kids starting Muay Thai at a younger age and getting the much needed experience that allows them to compete internationally. We have more and more competitions and promoters along with more organizations involved in safety and oversight. Everyone has their own vision for the sport and ideas about how things should be accomplished. Because of my long standing history being involved in Muay Thai, many people ask me which direction I think is best for the sport. Who has the right or best idea? Who has the answer? The truth is that everyone is doing the best they can for the sport with the resources they have.
Chatri Sityodtong and One Championship are no exception and they have vast resources. So it serves that they have a great chance to make the biggest impact on the sport and future of Muay Thai.
One Championship took advantage of modern technology, created great fights for fans to watch for free on their streaming platforms. This built an undeniably massive audience. Let’s face it, that’s what companies and sponsors want. They want millions of eyeballs on their products and offerings. One has what they want. This was all done mostly in Asia. They have room to grow!
They just had their first show on American soil last week to a sold out crowd in Colorado. If America embraces the platform that One has created it will grow exponentially. I personally believe Americans will fall in love with One! It’s more exciting than UFC because they offer more than just MMA. Styles like kickboxing and Muay Thai are also showcased. Even their MMA is exciting to watch and nobody can deny their production value is stunning. One has accomplished what nobody else has for Muay Thai. It has reached millions of viewers and created millions of new fans for our sport. So many before have tried to show the world that Muay Thai is the most exciting ring sport on the planet, but all have failed, until One Championship came along. They are the only ones who have succeeded to take the sport this far. People can argue their methods but the numbers don’t lie!
So why do they choose to go away from so many things traditional and sacred to the current Muay Thai fans? The question is which fans are One trying to reach? The traditional Muay Thai fans that represent a niche’ market of people who love the Wai Kru and the slow start of the first two rounds and the music? Or a different kind of fan? The answer is simple. One is going after a different market. They are clearly going after the fans of fight sports. The ones that love MMA and UFC and all things violent, entertaining and exciting. No Wai Kru, no music, small gloves, it’s what their fans want! These are the fans that One Championship is marketing to and therefore it is them who dictate what they think Muay Thai should look like. Their fans have spoken and they like 3 round fights in small gloves with no music and no Wai Kru. It’s entertaining and exciting and easy to understand. Just like with any promoter it is a business and to be successful in business they must give their fans what they want! It just makes sense.
Most people that are concerned about the changes are the ones who love traditional Muay Thai. I am one of those people who love Muay Thai in its Wai Kru, 5 round music accompanied form. But I also recognize that the methods all of the traditional Muay Thai enthusiasts have used to spread muay Thai in the past have failed.
The method of spreading Muay Thai to the world most have used in the past is trying to educate people on the history of the Wai Kru, the strategic reason for the slow start, the influence and importance of live music, etc. This method has failed time and time again! It is just plain hard for most people to understand and embrace all of these things.
Watching what One is doing makes me think that maybe the approach all along should’ve been to strip away the things most fans have a hard time to understand and appreciate and display it to the world as a combat sport that is entertaining and exciting first and foremost. Working backwards getting tons of fight sport fans to love Muay Thai the way they can understand it and then work on education from there. In all honesty, One has reached more people than anyone ever has before using their platform. Complain all you want about how they’re doing it but they are doing something right!
As a traditional Muay Thai enthusiast, what I would like to see is that One Championship would honor those traditions in the end and become the ones to educate all those millions of fans on the beautiful traditional aspects that make Muay Thai so special. If they do that even the most staunch traditionalist couldn’t complain because One will have accomplished that which they could not, simply by working backwards. This approach will work!
Either way, Muay Thai is constantly evolving. It may change to the masses but I believe there will always be those who love the stadium style of Muay Thai. In spite of what One does or doesn’t do there will still be those who love our sport in its stadium style format, like me. I’m not going anywhere. I will always be a fan of this style. Meanwhile, I will also enjoy the entertainment style Muay Thai that One is showcasing and some of the great matches they are putting together. I will also enjoy watching as the athletes in our sport continue to get paid at a level of other professional combat sport athletes and see lives being changed, especially for the Thai people who’s economic outlook as a Muay Thai fighter in a traditional format is not good. That is changing because of One Championship! Nobody can deny that! They are changing lives!
Since they are doing so many things so well can they do anything better? Yes. If One truly wants to protect athletes and ensure their longevity in the sport it must go away from the small MMA style gloves. Chatri Sityodtong recently spoke out about them and said that nobody is dying from them. I agree there is no evidence to the contrary as of yet. However, are there more knockouts because of them? Brain damage not only ruins careers but also lives. These athletes are not just fighters but people too. They have lives to live beyond their years as an athlete with their families and friends. It is easy to forget that in the heat of exciting fights but fighters are people just like you and I.
There is another major concern for the athletes who wear small gloves. How many athletes are breaking their hands in those small gloves in each event? How many cuts are opening up because of them? Fighters need their hands, it is part of their toolbox. Once they have broken their hands a few times will it hinder their performance or even end their career? And once an athlete starts getting cut a lot, will their face open up easier? Both of these things can ruin careers. Muay Thai should not be in MMA gloves. Sure it’s exciting but what about the athletes? Let’s err on the side of caution and longevity for the athletes sake!
Liam Harrison, my friend and a One Championship athlete recently posted this…
“Muaythai is evolving ….ONE Championship is leading the way and changing the dynamic …they are getting everyone paid and changing lives …and whether you like it or don’t like it, learn to love it.…but unless you’re making one championship money, don’t fight in those gloves .. they are unforgiving.”
I have to agree with Liam on both accounts. One is leading the way to the evolution of Muay Thai but at the same time we should caution fighters who will try to compete on shows that are trying to duplicate what One Championship is doing on a smaller scale. If you aren’t getting paid the kind of money that One Championship is offering, just say no to the small gloves and say yes to longevity in your career!
So is One Championship ruining Muay Thai or saving it? It is my opinion that they have done a lot of good for Muay Thai already and they have the potential to grow the sport of Muay Thai beyond what has ever been achieved before. If they work backwards building fans but also honor the roots and traditions by slowly educating people about the beautiful traditions of Muay Thai then they will absolutely elevate the sport!
However if they neglect this completely they could change the face of Muay Thai forever leaving the majority of the next generation of Muay Thai fans only knowing Muay Thai as a 3 round sport with MMA gloves and strip it of its ties to history and tradition. Some people just don’t care about all that though and just want to see a fight. So either way just like there will always be fans of stadium Muay Thai there will always be fans of entertainment Muay Thai.
But if Chatri really means what he says about honoring his roots in Thailand and the sport of Muay Thai he must consider this and act accordingly. If he is only about the money then he will move forward leaving all tradition behind. It’s a choice One Championship has the power and responsibility to make. Let’s face it I don’t think they will ever actually promote traditional style 5 round fights with Wai Kru and music. It just doesn’t fit their business model, but let’s hope they choose to at least honor Muay Thai.
Will One Championship consider the longevity and careers of the athletes and protect them by using regular gloves? Or, will they continue to sacrifice the athletes for the sake of entertainment and to satisfy their fight fans’ need for brutality and violence. It is a similar question isn’t it? The age old question of morality vs money.
Maybe the money they pay the athletes makes the risks worth it. It will to some but not to all. Some athletes will choose to compete elsewhere because of this. Maybe they won’t make the kind of money they do fighting for One but not all athletes do this strictly for the money.
Can they achieve both? I believe they can. But they must choose the athlete over the business. It’s a hard choice for a business to make.
One Championship has the opportunity to balance these things and honor the history and tradition of the sport as well as protecting the athletes involved while still accomplishing their goals of reaching millions of fight fans around the world and creating so many more than ever before for our sport. What will they do? …Only time will tell.
Looking to the future, the true growth is yet to happen. Once other organizations recognize the possibility of Muay Thai’s broad appeal and get involved in promoting Muay Thai at a high level, that is when growth will really happen. Monopolies don’t benefit the athletes. They only really benefit the organization. When other organizations with similar resources step into the game, that’s when athlete’s have choices and top athletes become in high demand. It is when athlete’s can begin to dictate their pay. Also when athletes signed to an organization aren’t being given the chance of competing regularly they have a choice to go to another organization where they can. Right now One is the only choice for that kind of pay. Competition is healthy and will be the real catalyst of growth for Muay Thai!
Can you imagine if promoters and networks on the scale of boxing began to get involved in Muay Thai? And imagine a future where Muay Thai had enough fans worldwide that Muay Thai athletes could get paid in the millions for a fight like boxers? With the growth and rise of One Championship and the number of new fans they bring anything is possible, but be careful what you wish for… it doesn’t always look the way you think it should. But sometimes it may be exactly what’s needed. And maybe it ends up even better than you imagined. It really is exciting times for Muay Thai!
What are your thoughts and comments?