Two of ONE Championship’s biggest current initiatives is its expansion into the United States, and the organization’s efforts to establish a footprint within the burgeoning Esports industry. There is a team in place who is tasked with bringing those goals to fruition, but one of the most valuable assets ONE has on those two journeys is Flyweight Grand Prix finalist and MMA legend Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson.
I was in Atlanta earlier this month for an Esports event and had the opportunity to connect with Johnson who was also in town for an interview with CNN.
Prior to meeting him in person (though I’d previously interviewed him via Skype) I could see how Johnson would be a huge boost to ONE’s roster and other endeavors. However, after spending parts of two days with the former UFC Champion, the upside to the relationship for both parties couldn’t have been clearer.
ONE has dominated the Asian martial arts market for the better part of the last five years. The Singapore-based promotion puts on shows that feature MMA, Muay Thai, Kickboxing, Submission Grappling and they have even promoted a boxing match. With Asia seemingly on lock from a major martial arts promotional standpoint, the organization’s ambitious and driven CEO Chatri Sityodtong has identified the U.S. market as the company’s next region to make its mark.
Knowing that it needed to add more American flavor to its roster to grab the attention of Stateside fans, who may not have been aware of the promotion, ONE targeted and acquired the services of Johnson, Eddie Alvarez, Sage Northcutt and a few others with a strong U.S. presence. While Alvarez, Northcutt, John Lineker, Yushin Okami, Vitor Belfort and James Nakashima up the ante with American fans, Johnson is arguably the most accomplished in a martial arts space, and he’s an avid and respected gamer.
Johnson isn’t just some athlete who dabbles in gaming. He’s hardcore and people from the various gaming communities know and respect him. That matters a ton–especially in the Esports space. ONE Esports was launched late in 2018, and things have been kicked into high gear this year with a huge Tekken invitational event planned for the weekend of October 13. This date coincides with ONE: Century, the promotion’s 100th event.
ONE has hired respected professionals like Carlos Alimurung to head up its Esports division, but it has also appointed Johnson as a brand ambassador because it is a space where he can thrive and has legitimate passion.
As a matter of fact, I learned in Atlanta that Johnson actually likes gaming even more than MMA. He loves his job, but much of what he is trying to set up for his future is centered around his gaming brand, which is Mighty Gaming.
ONE: Century and all of the events surrounding it will be under a major spotlight as the event will be broadcast live on TNT, per ONE. There will be a larger announcement on this in the near future.
Johnson will obviously be present for the event, which will emanate from Tokyo, Japan. He will face Danny Kingad in the finals of the Flyweight Grand Prix in one of the featured bouts at ONE: Century. The winner earns a $1 million prize and a shot at current ONE Flyweight Champion Adriano Moraes. Expect Johnson to be heavily favored.
Aside from the obvious connections with MMA and Esports, Johnson’s demeanor and overall presentation are perfect for ONE. In observing him for the several hours we spent together with other members of the media and ONE staff, it’s shocking how infrequently he complains–at least publicly. He’s about as easygoing as they come, and his amicable nature makes him an ideal ambassador for any brand.
Don’t take the amicability as a sign of weakness.
Johnson exudes a quiet confidence and he is astute when it comes to business. He broke down for me the UFC’s pay-per-view-point structure, and he understands his worth as an athlete and brand. Even with that level of commercial awareness, he carries himself with noticeable humility. Johnson meets people who may not immediately recognize him, strikes up conversations with them, and makes it a point not to mention his profession or fame.
It’s pretty fascinating to witness, and it’s a trait I found to be admirable. I haven’t confirmed this with anyone who works with ONE, but I’d assume it’s something that resonated with the promotion’s brass. How things ultimately shake out with ONE’s U.S. expansion and Esports ventures remains to be seen, but Johnson is undoubtedly positioned to be of assistance on both fronts.