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Assessing the ONE Championship suplex rule controversy

Assessing the ONE Championship suplex rule controversy

This past Saturday, Japan hosted the majority of the weekend’s MMA action that was set to take place around the globe. All while trying to avoid the lurking Typhoon Hagibis.

Kicking things off in Osaka early Saturday morning (US time) was RIZIN 19 which saw their lightweight Grand Prix get underway. Fans were also treated to phenomenal performances from the likes of Seo Hee Ham, Kai Asakura, and light heavyweight champion, Jiri Prochazka.

Later on in the day, ONE Championship was in Tokyo where they would be holding their 100th major event. Titled ONE: Century, the overall event was split into two big cards that featured four title bouts and three tournament finals in total.

Part 1 of the show was headlined by yet another thrilling pairing of champions in Angela Lee and Xiong JingNan. Unfortunately, the final sequence of the bout has been clouded by controversy.

After absorbing several punches from JingNan around the dwindling 3:20 mark of the fifth and final round, Lee would shoot in for a single leg takedown. Initially defended, Xiong would land some hammer fist punches while defending. Lee would end up releasing the leg and positioning her arm around JingNan’s back which quickly led to a successful suplex from the defending atomweight champion.

From this point on, JingNan would find herself stuck under the working Lee who found a late rear-naked choke to force the tap with 10 seconds remaining. It was a truly great rematch and a great performance from Lee in what will surely end up as a classic trilogy.

However… Suplex takedowns in ONE Championship are an entirely illegal maneuver – or at least they used to be.

At ONE: Iron Will on March 24, 2018, Kritsada Kongsrichai would score what was initially a first-round TKO victory over Robin Catalan via slam and punches. That was until it was later overturned after the event due to the illegality of the slam Kongsrichai used.

ONE Founder Chatri Sityodtong released a statement on his Facebook following the overturning of Kongsrichai’s victory.

The statement, which has since been deleted, read as follows:

“After careful video review of the fight under multiple angles, it has been deemed that an illegal suplex was utilized. At ONE Championship, all variations of suplexes are illegal and any attempt or intent results in an automatic disqualification. Robin Catalan will now be awarded the victory, and his win bonus. It will also be ruled a loss via DQ for Kritsada Kongsrichai and his official fight record.”

Sityodtong also explained:

“As a fellow lifelong martial artist, I fully understand that no athlete wants to win or lose under the cloud of a DQ. However, as the leader of ONE Championship, I am here to ensure that safety is the #1 priority at all times for all of our athletes.”

Since Kongsrichai’s disqualification loss to Catalan, two more for the same reason have occurred in ONE Championship thus totaling out to three in the promotion’s eight-year history.

The second came in September 2018 when the current lightweight champion, Christian Lee, used one against Edward Kelly at ONE: Beyond the Horizon. The third and most recent disqualification came in June of this year when Hu Yong suplexed Huyixibai in the third-round of their three-round flyweight contest at ONE: Hero Series June.

Unlike the first disqualification of Kongsrichai, the last two were addressed on the spot and called disqualifications immediately by officials and the commentary teams.

“I really do feel like I was robbed of a victory and handed a loss that should never be on my record,” Christian Lee explained to The Body Lock.

“Instead of moving up to 10-2, it pushes me back to 9-3. It doesn’t really matter, but at the same time, it does in terms of my brand. People were thinking that I’m a dirty fighter, that I wanted to paralyze this guy. None of that is true. The fact is he landed on his shoulder, and his head hit as a result of him having nothing other than his shoulder posted on the mat.

“He [Edward Kelly] said in a pre-fight interview his goal was he wanted to finish me with the head kick knockout in the second round,” Lee continued. “Now I don’t see how putting your shin into another person’s head could possibly be any worse than getting dropped hard on a takedown. It’s a fight. These things happen, and you know going into it that there’s a potential for injury. And so I feel like, you know, it is what it is, it’s a fight.

“That’s why [the referee] let the fight continue until he was out from the punches. When the decision was made to disqualify me, it actually involved multiple other officials at ONE. So it wasn’t the referee’s fault. He stopped the fight, and he went to go check with the officials because whenever there is a slam finish in ONE they’re going to check it. And so they did and he came to me and he said, look like they’re saying that it’s illegal because of the fact that he hit his head on the mat and he apologized. He said, ‘I’m sorry, there’s nothing that I can do about it, I’m going to have to give you a red card.’”

Timestamp: 3:20

Timestamp: 17:20

When looking at all three suplexes plus the one in question from Angela Lee at ONE: Century, they do all have two common traits. The first and most obvious one being that they indeed were suplexes/slams – which Sityodtong announced as illegal following the first incident.

Secondly, they all saw the person getting slammed land on their heads… Specifically the backs of their heads/necks. Except in JingNan’s case as she landed more on the side of her head. In the Hu Yong fight, ONE commentator Mitch Chilson stated that suplexes onto the head, neck, or spine are illegal. This wasn’t mentioned during Lee vs JingNan 2 after the slam was landed but was addressed as the back of the head specifically being the illegal part of slams following the end of Part 1.

Along with that, ONE’s official programs for the event listed the following as the only illegal techniques. It also specified that “all takedowns are legal but must not result in spiking or pile driver to the head or neck.”

“I have not seen the replay or anything like that so I don’t know, did she land on her shoulder?” Sityodtong said at the post-fight press conference for ONE: Century Part 1 via South China Morning Post. “I don’t know if it was a full suplex or a side suplex. I have to review the footage or get the competition team to review the footage.”

Illegal techniques:

  • Stomps/up-kicks/kicks to the head of a grounded opponent
  • Head Butting
  • Hair Pulling
  • Eye Gouging
  • Orifice Insertion
  • Spitting
  • Grabbing onto the cage fence

As for Angela Lee’s comments, she told FanSided; “We pay very close attention to the rules of ONE Championship, and when I went for my takedown, I lifted her up and I threw her front side. So she would land on her face, not on the back of her head. I’m pretty sure that everything is on camera. And, you know, I’m looking to end the fight in a clean way. And I’m not going to be a dirty fighter and try to take advantage of any situation.”

Obviously, over time rules are bound to be changed for better or worse which appears to be the case in ONE Championship. The big problem is the lack of clarity – whether it should or shouldn’t be a rule is a different discussion. The fact is that it seems to still be a rule but ONE didn’t announce when the changes were made to the rule, therefore, leading to this continued confusion.

The Body Lock reached out to ONE Championship asking when the rule change was made from all suplexes being illegal to the seemingly current illegal variant and no comment has been received yet.

In their eight-year existence, this, of course, isn’t the only batch of disqualifications that have been seen in ONE Championship. Most commonly it has been your typical illegal strike that has either come to a grounded opponent via kick or punches/elbows to the back of the head, etc.

But in May following ONE: Enter the Dragon, an event that saw Petchmorrakot Petchyindee originally upset Giorgio Petrosyan by split decision, we got a different type of overturning. The bout was a kickboxing match.

“ONE Championship has conducted an official review of the controversial bout between Giorgio Petrosyan and Petchmorrakot Petchyindee at ONE: Enter The Dragon in Singapore,” Sityodtong posted on Facebook (via BJPenn.com). “In fairness to all parties, the ONE Competition Committee has formally declared the bout a no contest. The referee did not adequately control the illegal clinching, resulting in multiple infractions during the bout.

“There will be an automatic rematch with the winner proceeding into the semifinals of the US$1m ONE Featherweight Kickboxing World Grand Prix.”

Petrosyan, an Evolve MMA instructor alongside the gym’s founder in Sityodtong, would win the rematch against Petchyindee before winning the finals at ONE: Century this past weekend.

In regards to Angela Lee’s suplex and what will happen there, if anything, remains to be seen. At the very least a trilogy bout against the strawweight champion, Xiong JingNan, could be waiting in the wings as Lee and Sityodtong expressed their interest of it in the post-fight presser.

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