Updated: Oct 25
ONE Championship put on its first submission grappling contest in 2017 between Garry Tonon and Shinya Aoki. The match lit a spark that was ignited into a flame five years later.
In 2022, ONE brought the sport to the masses in a big way at ONE X. The company put two high-profile matches on its largest crowd to date and gave it a push to the masses.
The largest martial arts organization then began carefully crafting divisions and signing talent. In just under two years time, the sport of submission grappling has reached new heights many thought would never come.
Here are five ways ONE has changed the dynamic of submission grappling and made it a global phenomenon.
1. ONE’s Global Rule Set
When it comes to competition on the mat, ONE has separated itself from the field with its global rule set that favors attacking submissions.
Other rule sets have point systems, which can give fans less than thrilling encounters if athletes choose to play the point game. It also lends itself to stall tactics when ahead. In ONE, this is not the case. Athletes would receive a yellow card for stalling, which could lead to being disqualified if continued.
Aggressiveness in seeking the submission is rewarded in ONE. Per the official rule set: “Judges will award the victory to the athlete with the greater number of catches. If there are an equal number of catches or no catches, the athlete determined to have shown more aggression will win.”
The global rule set emphasizes what the sport is supposed to be about — submissions. Athletes have to be aggressive and seek a finish, and when met with an equal on the mat, their techniques have to be on point. It not only makes the sport more exciting and fan-friendly but how it should be ideally.
2. Primetime Matchups
No more is submission grappling done in the dark. ONE has brought the sport to the masses with its partnership with Prime Video.
ONE has not buried the sport on undercards. Matchups routinely get placed atop the card, with big names helping bolster interest in the sport. ONE’s U.S. debut earlier in 2023 is a phenomenal example of how they have grown the sport quickly.
In their domestic debut at ONE Fight Night 10, ONE Flyweight Submission Grappling World Champion Mikey Musumeci met Osamah Almarwai as one of the key bouts. The fans responded with loud ovations when Musumeci secured the submission. There were no boos. Nobody left their seat.
ONE is using its global platform and partnership with Amazon to put these amazing matchups in front of the biggest audiences possible.
3. Elevating The Athletes
Whether Musumeci, the Ruotolo brothers, or Danielle Kelly, ONE has dedicated itself to building stars. These incredible martial artists are placed front and center across all of ONE’s platforms, and their star power has exploded.
Musumeci may be the best example. He went from being a budding star in the sport’s niche culture to becoming a household name. Fans got to know him on a personal level through ONE’s storytelling, and then his skill on the mats complimented that and made him a true star.
Across all of ONE’s key events, such as ONE X and ONE Fight Night 10, they have made it a point to highlight submission grappling’s biggest names.
In a short time, submission grappling’s top stars have gone from relative obscurity to stardom. ONE continues to push these athletes to the forefront, and it is a massive reason for their increased popularity.
4. Defending World Champions
Before ONE developed its submission grappling divisions, the sport primarily focused on big tournaments. While those tournaments are notable and fun, they do not provide a singular World Champion who then goes on to defend the gold on a continued basis until defeated like other combat sports.
And that is someone fans can rally behind.
How would boxing be if it had one or two major tournaments per year but no icon to carry the belt around? Or MMA? Having someone stand atop the division with a belt helps keep the sport relevant in all 12 months.
These tournaments are still outstanding, but ONE provides a structure to bring the sport to the next level. It won’t come down to a tournament title anymore. The ONE Submission Grappling World Championship will become the sport’s most coveted prize as the sport grows.
5. Continued Commitment
Perhaps the most important way ONE is changing the landscape is through one simple word — commitment. ONE is continuing its commitment to the sport on a grand scale.
ONE is in this for the long haul. If all of this were for the short term, the impact would not have been as great. However, they have backed up all of the talk with tangible results. ONE believes in the future of the sport and is committed to providing a platform for grappling athletes in the future.
Submission grappling will return under the spotlight at ONE Fight Night 14 on Friday, September 29. Danielle Kelly and Jessa Khan will collide for the inaugural ONE Women’s Atomweight Submission Grappling World Championship live on Prime Video. The event begins at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT and is free for all Amazon Prime members based in the U.S. and Canada.