ONE Championship’s first semi-open weigh-ins raise more questions than answers
Update: Information received from ONE Championship has been added to the bottom of this post.
On Thursday, August 15, ONE Championship broadcasted the official weigh-ins and hydration test for ONE Championship: Dreams of Gold on YouTube.
Following the death of Chinese fighter Yang Jian Bing in 2015 as a result of weight cutting complications, ONE Championship overhauled its weigh-in system and touted the elimination of weight cutting. However, the weigh-ins remained closed to the media, the public, and purportedly even at times the opponents of the fighters themselves.
During the stream, viewers were able to witness urine samples being tested for hydration purposes, as well as fighters taking the scale in an unprecedented glimpse into ONE’s secretive weigh-in procedures. The results of the hydration test and weigh-in were announced by ONE Championship officials on the broadcast.
Before overhauling its weight cutting rules and regulations in 2015, ONE Championship’s – then ONE FC’s – weigh-ins were open to both the media and the public, though the weights of the fighters were unannounced.
The weigh-in video from ONE: Spirit of Champions, the cataclysmic event during which Yang passed away, was posted by MiddleEasy. It shows Olivier Coste, a referee employed by ONE Championship, checking the weights of each fighter before a face-off between opponents and giving an “OK” sign to the resident announcer after the fighters’ weigh-in attempts.
ONE Championship announced a seven-point plan in the wake of Yang’s death that aimed to prevent fighters from cutting weight entirely, focusing on moving fighters to a weight class that mirrored their natural, walkaround weights.
Each weight class was elevated, so the 135-pound division, formerly referred to as bantamweight, became ONE’s flyweight division. The usage of IVs was prohibited; fighters were subjected to multiple days of weigh-ins and specific gravity urine tests to gauge their hydration levels.
In a press release detailing the changes to ONE’s weight cutting system, then-CEO Victor Cui announced a firm stance against unsafe weight cutting methods, stating, “By banning weight cutting by dehydration, we are leading the way globally for enhanced safety standards for professional MMA athletes.”
ONE Championship Vice President and UFC Hall of Famer Rich Franklin doubled down on that point in an interview with MMA Mania in 2017, adding, “We don’t use the term ‘weight cutting’ because there is no cutting. We’ve developed a system of how we want our athletes to weigh in [at their walk-around weight].”
However, with ONE’s revolutionary system operating behind closed doors and without athletic commission oversight, optimism about ONE’s safer, ‘better’ weigh-ins was met with widespread criticism and skepticism.
Showtime’s and Sirius XM’s Luke Thomas is one of the leading critics of ONE’s lack of transparency regarding their weight cutting system.
“Now, hydration testing and some of the other methods that are ostensibly used by ONE Championship often get bandied about as the weight cutting panacea; as the solution that has already arrived. I see this all the time. To which I reply, ‘How do you know? How do you know that’s true? And the reason why I ask that is actually pretty simple: because I know you don’t… There’s no information about it at all. None. Zero,” Thomas said about ONE’s weight cutting process, following calls for the UFC to implement it after UFC strawweight Cynthia Calvillo’s weight miss at UFC Argentina.
Thomas correctly argued that without anything except “anecdotal evidence,” there’s no way to confirm ONE Championship’s claims of ‘solving weight cutting,’ or even pre-fight weigh-in results.
It is unknown why ONE Championship discontinued public weigh-ins after changing its weight cutting system, but several fighters, coaches, and pundits recently shared their insights with The Body Lock prior to Thursday’s streamed weigh-ins.
ONE Championship did not respond for comment as to why its past weigh-ins were unaired.
Before today, ONE Championship’s weigh-ins and the processes surrounding them have been extremely secretive and entirely closed-off to the media and the public.
When asked why that might be, a source with intimate knowledge of ONE’s weigh-in system supposed that ONE “just want[ed] to have it under their control; it leaves the room for manipulation of results of the weigh-in… It might be beneficial for certain special fighters.” That source spoke to The Body Lock on the condition of anonymity, citing concerns over retaliation from the promotion.
That concern remains valid even in the wake of the streamed weigh-ins; at press time, no results on the secondary tests are available for the fighters who missed weight and/or hydration Thursday. In theory, those fighters could have been allowed to compete without taking another test – there was no stream of secondary testing.
Undefeated ONE Championship featherweight Garry Tonon, in an interview with The Body Lock, speculated that the reasoning for conducting weigh-ins behind closed doors could have been to prevent a public relations nightmare.
“I would just say it’s probably mostly for social media or crisis control. If I had to guess – if I’m going to give them a random speculation on why that policy may be followed – that would be the only thing that I can think of is that, maybe somebody’s missing weight; it doesn’t look good, right? And, [ONE are] trying to protect both themselves as well as the individual who is trying to make weight from getting that negative social media attention,” Tonon theorized, noting that ONE never disclosed a reason why to him.
UFC veteran and coach to several ONE Championship fighters Will Chope, who was recently threatened with a defamation suit by ONE’s legal counsel over allegations he levied over ONE’s drug-testing program, told The Body Lock that while he supports the system’s safety measures, “This kind of atmosphere, with no transparency and everything, and also with the fact that like the owner of an organization [ONE Chairman and CEO Chatri Sityodtong] owns another gym [Evolve MMA], it creates room for speculation.”
“You are not allowed to bring your cell phone in, ’cause obviously the same way that they don’t allow media, they wouldn’t want you videotaping yourself or others ’cause I guess the whole point again is for it to be behind closed doors,” said Tonon.
“There’s no cameras. Nothing’s public,” echoed Chope.
Chope, who has cornered several fighters ahead of their ONE bouts, also says that normally, he and his fighters do not see the weight of their opponents – something streaming the weigh-ins would amend, although weigh-in results for those who missed weight are at press time unavailable. Chope says that managers were infrequently able to ask the promotion to do so.
“Even though my fighter weighs in, I don’t actually see my fighter’s opponent’s hydration tests. I don’t see him actually weigh-in. They won’t do my fighter and his opponent at the same exact time, so I don’t actually see – yes, I see my fighter’s weight and my fighter’s hydration, but I don’t see his opponent’s weight and hydration.”
“[But] another manager has said that he can make a big deal out of it, and he can stay there and he can see his opponents’ everything. Like, if he gets there early and does it all and stays there, he can wait until his opponent weighs in. Apparently, I do have that option, but in my experience, I haven’t done that yet. Another manager has told me that that’s possible.”
To some fighters, like ONE’s lightweight and former featherweight champion, Martin Nguyen, the inability to verify ONE’s weigh-in results was never an issue.
“Honestly, for me, like, why does it matter to the public, when all [who] it should really matter to is your opponent’s team and your opponent?” Nguyen said to The Body Lock’s John Hyon Ko in January.
While airing the weigh-ins and hydration testing ahead of the ONE: Dreams of Gold event is a major step for transparency within the ONE Championship weight cutting system, there is still a bevy of questions surrounding it.
Without athletic commission oversight in many of the countries ONE holds events in, the weigh-ins are conducted by ONE officials, which could open the door to potential conflicts of interest and could call into question announced results.
The second weigh-in and hydration testing for athletes ahead of ONE: Dreams of Gold was unaired, and as such, there has been no confirmation as to whether or not the six fighters who missed weight and/or hydration passed the mandated additional testing.
Those six fighters, along with their listed weights and hydration results, are included below. There is no information as to whether or not these fighters passed additional testing, as that portion of the process was unaired.
- Jo Nattawut failed hydration (1.0277 g/ml) and missed weight (70.55kg, needs to make 70.3kg)
- Paul Lumihi failed hydration (1.0270 g/ml) and missed weight (65.9kg, needs to make 65.8kg)
- Stefer Rahardian failed hydration (1.0295 g/ml) and missed weight (56.75kg, needs to make 56.7kg)
- Ilias Ennahachi passed hydration (1.0078 g/ml) but missed weight (61.5kg, needs to be 61.2kg)
- Stamp Fairtex passed hydration (1.0176 g/ml) but missed weight (52.5kg, needs to make 52.2kg)
- Bangpleenoi missed hydration (1.0252 g/ml) and passed weight (71.9kg, needs to make 72.0kg)
It is worth noting that ONE Championship employs a multi-day weight-management system, with fighters weighing in on Monday and Tuesday of event week in a test run, of sorts, before needing to make weight and pass hydration on both Wednesday and Thursday ahead of a Friday event.
According to fighters within the program, missing weight on Wednesday and/or Thursday would force a fighter to make both weight and hydration on Friday – event day – or run the risk of having their fight canceled. If the fight is not canceled, a fighter who missed weight can purportedly still compete, but under a ‘catchweight’ label, and some have alleged that a fine could occur in that instance.
By airing only the fighters’ first attempts on Thursday, as ONE seems to have done, a lack of transparency surrounding weight and hydration testing misses remains.
This is a major step forward regarding the transparency of ONE’s long-secret weigh-ins and hydration testing, but it is far from a panacea. Questions – and concerns – about fair and consistent enforcement will remain until the entire process is fully visible and carried out by an independent third party.
ONE Championship repeatedly declined to submit written comment for this story.
Update: ONE Championship sent an official press release at 4:02 am ET on Friday, August 16, that included the final weight and hydration results. The press release was received 2 hours and 30 minutes before the event commenced.
Find the results for the six fighters mentioned earlier in this article in the section below.
The ONE Championship press release states, “Athletes who failed weight and hydration tests on Day 1 or Day 2 are given another chance to clear tests on the morning of the event.”
The press release contains the event-day results for the six fighters who previously failed weight and hydration tests during Thursday’s live stream.
- Jo Nattawut (69.80 kg, 1.0083)
- Ilias Ennahachi (61.2 kg, 1.0023)
- Stamp Fairtex (52.2 kg, 1.0195)
- Stefer Rahardian – (56.65 kg, 1.0140)
- Paul Lumihi (65.8 kg, 1.0103)
- Bangpleenoi Petchyindee Academy (71.95 kg, 1.0074)
The press release also states that Ramon Gonzales failed weight and hydration and therefore the bout with Hexigetu has been canceled.
- Ramon Gonzales (56.7kg, 1.0252)
Unlike the Thursday weigh-ins, the Friday weigh-ins were not broadcasted.