Since January of 2019 UFC, Bellator, and ONE Championship have all made changes in their TV rights deals to try and draw more eyes to MMA. A sport once deemed as “human cockfighting” by late Senator John McCain now has titans of the industry such as ESPN, Showtime, and TNT betting on the success of combat sports. Singapore-based ONE Championship’s all-in approach of ushering out stateside stars Demetrious Johnson and Eddie Alvarez Wednesday didn’t go as planned as both men tasted defeat in ONE Championship’s debut card on TNT.
The fight game is so unpredictable that anything can happen, giving the biggest of underdogs a ‘punchers chance’ of coming out on top. With betting lines closing at around a +500 dog, defending ONE flyweight champion Adriano Moraes (22-3) was the thing Vegas didn’t see coming. The American Top Team product Moraes used his five-inch height advantage to stay on the outside of his strikes and was even able to take Johnson down and control him for over two minutes in the late stages of the opening round. In round two, Johnson continued with his relentless pressure to attempt to get on the inside of Moraes before falling to a right uppercut, followed by a downed knee and flurry of strikes before referee Olivier Coste stepped in at 3:19 into the second round. Moraes fulfilled his pre-fight promise to be the first one to finish Johnson. Knees to downed opponents are a move that are legal in ONE Championship, however it’s illegal in the Unified Rules of MMA that the majority of American state athletic commissions follow today. It was ironically the same move that Johnson was campaigning to be included in the unified ruleset in the aftermath of the UFC 259 bantamweight title fight between Petr Yan and Aljamain Sterling.
Heres the thing you cant stall the fight by sitting on your knees. Knees to a grounded opponent should be allowed!— Demetrious Johnson (@MightyMouse) March 7, 2021
Demetrious Johnson was once an immovable force in the UFC’s flyweight division although barely standing over five feet and weighing 125 pounds. The man nicknamed ‘Mighty Mouse’ is often thrown out in the barber shop style G.O.A.T discussions and his 11 consecutive UFC title defenses to bolster that claim. Despite Johnson’s dominance in his UFC run, he was a part of the first trade in MMA history in 2018 as he was swapped for then ONE welterweight champion turned present day celebrity boxer Ben Askren. Since the trade, both men went a combined 4-3, with Johnson going 3-0 and winning the flyweight world grand prix, leading into his title bout Wednesday. This is far from the end for DJ, but if Johnson continues to fight guys that have huge advantages in height and reach in the latter stages of his career, we could potentially see him get upset again down the road.
Right before we saw Demetrius Johnson get upset, we saw another former UFC champion as former UFC lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez (30-8) lost via disqualification just 1:07 into the opening round in his bout with Iuri Lapicus (14-1). Alvarez, similar to Johnson was also facing a noticeable height difference in his bout, but unlike Johnson he was able to get on the inside of Laupicus and was able to take him down in the opening moments. Alvarez proceeded to take Laupicus down and tried to posture up and land some ground and pound from the top. Laupicus then proceeded to turn his head towards the fence and Alvarez was disqualified after repeated strikes the back of the head. Disqualifications have been veering its ugly head in recent weeks dating back to UFC 259, but no disqualification has been a closer call than this one. Alvarez was seen after the fight stopping sequence was seen arguing with the official before getting a red card to seal his DQ loss and was visibly upset in his post-fight interview with the commentary team. Alvarez in frustration said, “you put me in a cage I don’t know what to do in here, I’m trying to survive” before wishing the best for his fallen opponent as Laupicus got stretchered out. The frustration seen on the face of Alvarez sums up his first two fights with the new promotion, Alvarez lost his first bout with ONE in March of 2019 when he faced Timofey Nastyukhin but was able to follow it up five months later with a submission win over Eduard Folayang in the first round of the ONE Lightweight World Grand Prix, but eventually had to pull out of the tournament due to an injury. The marquee, free agent signing now falls to 1-2 in his first three with ONE Championship and looks to fight again sometime soon after taking little to no damage in his DQ loss. The promotion will continue to air cards for the next three Wednesdays on TNT as One on TNT II airs next week as lightweight champion Christian Lee faces off against Timofey Nastyukhin at 8:30 PM EST.
(Cover Photo: ONE Championship)