The sport of MMA has often times been touted as the fastest growing sport in the world, with its popularity continuing to grow at a staggering rate. While Mixed Martial Arts was considered by many as a taboo sport just a few decades ago, with the former United States Senator John McCain of the Republican Party vehemently opposing it and even describing the contest as ‘human cockfighting’, the sensational success of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, a.k.a. UFC managed to change everyone’s perception.
Currently, in its 25th year, the UFC has almost always dominated the MMA market and has long been the world’s premier fighting promotion. Even though the likes of Pride FC in the late nineties and Strikeforce in the mid-2000s did challenge the UFC’s dominance, they eventually did lose their respective bouts to the UFC.
UFC President Dana White oversaw these triumphant takeovers as the UFC swallowed its main competitors Pride and Strikeforce. However, this has given rise to one major problem, i.e. with the UFC having somewhat of a virtual monopoly, it can be argued that the sport has failed to grow to its full potential due to a lack of serious competition from other companies.
Though, in a rather shocking turn of events, in the past 2 years, an ever-increasing threat to the UFC’s crown has risen in the form of the Asian promotion, ONE Championship. While ONE had been claiming to be the world’s 2nd biggest MMA promotion just behind the UFC, such claims were usually taken with a pinch of salt. However, they truly got everyone’s attention when in 2018, ONE managed to whisk away some of the UFC’s most prized possessions (fighters).
With the likes of the former UFC flyweight champion and one of the arguable pound-for-pound G.O.A.Ts, Demetrious Johnson, former UFC and Bellator MMA lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez and the young welterweight prospect Sage Northcutt, deciding to jump ships to the UFC’s Asian rival. This news was met by a massive wave of disbelief by many fans around the globe.
Now that these top-level former UFC fighters are the crown jewels on ONE Championship. What does the future hold in store for them?
Demetrious Johnson: The GOAT!?
A year ago, even the most optimistic ONE Championship fans would have laughed off rumors that the UFC might let the most skilled and technically adept fighter on their roster leave. However, since losing his belt to rival and Olympic Gold-medallist Henry Cejudo at UFC 227 in a close and controversial split decision defeat, Johnson simply did not have any more incentives left to stay put.
In late October of last year, he accepted a deal from ONE and was used by the UFC as a tool to trade for Ben Askren. He was instantly pushed into the fray and announced as a participant for ONE Flyweight Grand Prix.
“Mighty Mouse” later made his debut against Yuya Wakamatsu at ONE Championship: A New Era, winning his promotional debut in the 2nd round via submission due to a guillotine choke.
The American will now face the winner of the bout between Tatsumitsu Wada vs. Ivanildo Delfino in the semi-finals of the ONE Flyweight Grand Prix tournament.
Johnson’s brilliance is already proven and there aren’t many fighters out there who can claim to have the same level of skill and pure technique, none apart from possibly Georges St-Pierre and Jon Jones. He is extraordinarily exceptional at every facet of MMA.
However, MMA is still an extremely unpredictable sport, where literally even a single second of brilliance can completely change and upset the potential outcome of a fight. For instance, despite Eddie Alvarez being knocked out by Timofey Nastyukhin (more on that later), it is expected that Johnson would still likely cruise.
He may face the occasional struggle, but he is still good enough the navigate the challenges he may face at ONE.
Eddie Alvarez: The Conundrum of a Downward Spiral
Unlike Mighty Mouse, Alvarez was always seemingly on his way out of the UFC with the former champion not intending to sign a new contract with the promotion and instead, looking to explore other new and exciting ventures.
When he signed for ONE, many expected him to dominate ONE’s Lightweight, and potentially even its Welterweight divisions. Because what he lacked in Mighty Mouse’s level of skill, he did slightly make up for it in terms of his physicality and other athletic attributes, even possessing hydrogen bombs masquerading as fists with the power to knock anyone on the planet out cold.
Alas! It did not go quite as planned for him. On his promotional debut, Alvarez looked a bit stiff and rusty and while he was a favorite to win ONE’s Lightweight Grand Prix tournament, he got knocked out in the very first round of the opening stage of the tournament by the dangerous Russian, Timofey Nastyukhin.
To be fair, Alvarez’s downfall has been foreshadowed and should not come as a shock. Ever since “The Underground King” lost his title to the enigmatic Conor McGregor at UFC 205, he has not quite been the same fighter.
Since UFC 205, he fought a no contest match-up against Dustin Poirier, then won an extremely close contest against Justin Gaethje, taking too much damage in the process and then lost to Poirier in his final octagon appearance via a Technical Knockout.
At thirty-five years of age Alvarez certainly isn’t getting any younger. He has also had his fair share of wars over the years which have taken a heavy toll on his body. Thus unlike DJ, Alvarez’s ONE adventures might not turn out to be as fruitful as expected earlier.
Alvarez is on a downward spiral at this point in his career, and the writing on the wall foreshadowing this decline has been there for a few years now!
Sage Northcutt: The Eternal Prospect
While Johnson and Alvarez were already vastly established fighters who had previously enjoyed massive success and were probably in the twilight of their careers, Northcutt is instead a young, up-and-coming prospect.
Unlike Alvarez, it was the UFC management itself that decided against renewing Super Sage’s contract. The UFC President had quite famously remarked that “Sage is young, and Sage needs some work. Let him get some work in some other organizations, and we will see where this kid ends up in a couple of years. Maybe we will pick him back up again.”
The issue that had bogged down Northcutt’s career was that he was just a ‘prospect’ for four years since 2015 and failed to adapt and evolve. Coming from a Karate background, Northcutt did possess the excellent kicking ability, but at the same time his boxing, Muay Thai and other striking skills lagged way behind. He also still lacks the adequate clinch and grappling abilities required to be an elite MMA fighter.
To put it briefly and rather bluntly, Northcutt was a bit too one-dimensional and displayed a lack of evolution and adaptability. While the UFC expected him to turn out to be another Rory MacDonald, that was certainly not to be the case.
He is currently scheduled to make his promotional debut against another striker, the Brazilian Cosmo Alexandre by the end of this week at ONE Championship: Rise Of Warriors.
The Karate Kid, i.e. Northcutt might fair well against a fellow striker like Alexandre but he will have to build on a potentially strong performance against the Brazilian and adapt to do well against other tougher stylistic match-ups, that potentially a strong grappler may possess.
Unless Northcutt can make a few adjustments to his game, he will probably struggle in his Asian conquest. Or he might try and take the easier way out of this inconvenience and try his luck at Muay Thai and Kickboxing, a career trajectory towards which he has hinted before.