ONE Championship’s attempt to salvage its upcoming schedule of events might have finally received its last nail in the coffin, as Singapore continues to strengthen its restrictions on events and border travel as a result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
ONE was among the first MMA promotions to experience scheduling difficulties following the emerging pandemic of COVID-19 in Wuhan, China, in early 2020.
In February, ONE Chairman and CEO Chatri Sityodtong announced that the promotion would move its once-scheduled Chongqing, China, show to Jakarta, Indonesia. The event, which was renamed following the venue switch, was set to feature a flyweight title bout between champion Adriano Moraes and all-time great Demetrious Johnson.
Just days later, ONE was forced to hold its February 28 King of the Jungle event in Singapore behind closed doors and without fans in attendance, as concerns over the coronavirus led to restrictions on large gatherings of people.
ONE then postponed its March 20 event in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, until June 26.
On Tuesday, Singapore’s government announced a new series of measures aimed at halting the spread of COVID-19 that appear to put ONE’s upcoming shows in jeopardy, despite their previous steps to work around the pandemic.
According to the Straits Times, “all other entertainment outlets will be closed from Thursday (March 26) 11:59 pm till April 30,” likely preventing ONE from securing a venue to promote their events. The outlet continued, “The measures on entertainment venues cover bars and entertainment venues like night clubs, discos, cinemas, theatres, and karaoke outlets.
“Other public venues such as retail malls, museums and attractions, where contact is more transient, may remain open. But operators must make sure the venue does not have more than one person per 16 sq m of usable space… Groups must not exceed 10 persons. Indoor and outdoor shows within attractions and open atrium sales events are suspended,” effectively preventing any mixed martial arts bout from being able to take place.
Those who violate the government’s rules purportedly face “fines of up to $10,000 or jail of up to six months or both.”
Singapore’s top soccer (football) league, the Singapore Premier League, tried a similar method to ONE Championship of holding events in the midst of COVID-19. The league’s games were “played behind closed doors” in an effort to stop the spread of the virus, until recently.
In a Tuesday memo to affiliates, the league wrote, “[t]he Multi-Ministry Taskforce today has mandated that all events and mass gathering including sporting events must be deferred or cancelled, regardless of size.”
Additionally, per the Straits Times, Singapore to the unprecedented step of effectively closing its borders, preventing the visitation of “tourists and short-term visitors.”
The move is a death knell of sorts for an international MMA promotion whose roster largely hails from outside of Singapore.
The government of Singapore enacted the ban in order to curb the arrival of COVID-19 from those beyond its borders, as the country reportedly suffered “49 new Covid-19 cases were reported on Tuesday, including 32 imported cases.”
When reached for comment about these developments by The Body Lock, a ONE Championship representative said the promotion would “refer you to these statements made by Chatri [Sityodtong],” including the ONE boss’ March 12 and March 15 Facebook posts in which Sityodtong announces the promotion’s decision to move its shows to Singapore and hold them without audiences.
The representative added, “To clarify, the plan is to have 4 closed-door, audience-free events in Singapore and our May 29 ONE Infinity 1 event in Manila is targeted to be open for audience. However, it is still very much depending on the situation of COVID-19,” concluding that there were “[n]o further updates on our end for now.”
Neither Sityodtong nor ONE have addressed what these new, additional measures enacted by Singapore mean for the promotion’s upcoming shows.
On Wednesday, however, Sityodtong took to Facebook in a lengthy post about the measures’ effect on his own gym, EVOLVE MMA.
Sityodtong wrote, “As many of you might have heard in the news yesterday, the Singapore Government has elevated its efforts to extinguish the spread of the coronavirus by issuing an order for businesses like EVOLVE to close for 1 month. In compliance with this order, EVOLVE will close temporarily from March 27 until April 30.”
The ONE Chairman and CEO then praised the Singaporean government for “doing the right thing,” writing, “As painful as it is for everyone at EVOLVE to go without martial arts in our daily lives for a few weeks, I am thankful to the Singapore Government for doing the right thing to protect all of us. Let us all unite and play our part responsibly in stopping this coronavirus. Let us all stay safe and healthy by practicing social distancing and good hygiene. Above all, let us cherish this break to focus on our loved ones, our health, and everything that we never have time to do. It is a gentle reminder to pause, rest, and reflect.”
Michael Fiedel is The Body Lock's deputy editor, a staff writer for FloCombat, and a Russell-Rice scholarship recipient at Vanderbilt University.