Stand and Deliver: One Championship on TNT 1

By: Ben Duffy
Apr 5, 2021

In some ways, a win is a win and a loss is a loss. But while it is true that every fight matters, some feel as though they matter more, for any number of reasons. In some cases, the elevated stakes are easy to quantify. Picture the fighter on a losing streak who knows he or she is likely fighting for their job; or conversely, any matchup on Dana White's Contender Series, where two hopefuls know that the brass ring is within their reach if they can win impressively. In other cases, a fight feels especially important for reasons that are harder to quantify, but no less real. Whether it’s the symbolic heft of being the first title challenger from one’s country, or the simple added spice of two fighters who really hate each other’s guts, that fight means just a little more.

This Wednesday, One Championship’s first card on TNT features several fights that carry that kind of tension for one or both participants. Here are three fighters who are under just a little extra pressure to stand and deliver at One Championship on TNT 1.

America’s Watching, Demetrious Johnson. Finally.

Back in 2018 when Johnson departed the Ultimate Fighting Championship for One Championship, I wondered whether One’s flyweight division would provide enough credible challenges to maintain his status as a pound-for-pound elite fighter. Frankly, I doubted it, and felt that the trade was much better for his counterpart, Ben Askren. I believe I was wrong about that, as I confessed in an article last week. I won’t rehash it all here; the main point is that One’s flyweight division has turned out to be healthier than it appeared two or three years ago, and is getting even better.

However, Johnson’s chances to test his mettle against elite flyweights are still limited, and Wednesday’s title tilt with Adriano Moraes represents one of the best of them. Not only is Moraes an outstanding fighter who poses legitimate threats to “Mighty Mouse,” but the event is being broadcast on basic cable in the United States. American fans who let Johnson slip off the radar after the move — and there have been many — will be checking in. It’s an opportunity for the longtime UFC champ, one of the most underappreciated fighters in MMA history, to remind them just how great he is.

Are You Shot or Not, Eddie Alvarez?

Of course, Johnson is not the only former UFC champion and household name fighting on Wednesday’s card. Before “Mighty Mouse” even thought of decamping to Singapore there was Alvarez, who signed with One for reported big bucks after a UFC run that saw spectacular highs as well as crushing lows. Unlike Johnson’s strong run with his new promotion, Alvarez has experienced mixed results, and that’s putting it mildly. After suffering a knockout loss to 3-to-1 underdog Timofey Nastyukhin in his debut, he was dropped again in his bounceback fight by Eduard Folayang. He recovered to win with an improbable-looking sweep, back take and rear-naked choke, but for the 37-year-old “Underground King,” who had suffered a couple of knockout losses on his way out of the UFC, both performances were concerning.

Alvarez is already one of the best fighters of his generation, the author of a heaping fistful of classic fights and an enviable highlight reel, and has nothing to prove to anyone but himself. Between the UFC and One, he has finally been collecting some respectable purses after years of earning his nickname by fighting for every dead-end promotion of the 2000s. The questions at this point are: How much does he have left after all the years and all the wars, and what would he like to accomplish in the time that remains to him? His foe at One on TNT 1, Iuri Lapicus, is no pushover, but one-shot knockout power is not one of his notable strengths. All told, it should be a good opportunity to answer both questions. If all he wants is to collect a few more of those purses, and perhaps finish up a trilogy with Shinya Aoki, a middling performance against Lapicus, or even a loss, is fine. If he wants to fight One’s best — certainly if he wants any shot at the winner of Nastyukhin’s challenge of One lightweight champ Christian Lee next week — he needs to win this in style, preferably without getting his chin checked.

Cue ‘Lose Yourself’ for Adriano Moraes

All of my points about this being a precious opportunity for Johnson to show out against an elite foe go double for Moraes. On talent and the eyeball test, the two-time One Championship and former Shooto Brazil titleholder has been one of the best flyweights competing outside North America for years. Moraes’ three career losses have all been extremely competitive, and at least the first two were against excellent flyweights. As a longtime member of American Top Team, working with some of the best lighter weight fighters in the UFC and Bellator, I suspect that Moraes knows where he falls in the global pecking order, but he has had relatively few chances to prove it.

A flat performance and close decision loss to Geje Eustaquio — unfortunately, right before the Johnson signing — pulled him into a trilogy that tied him up for a year and frankly did little for his worldwide stock. Now, finally, comes the chance to shine against one of the greatest fighters on the planet, and in front of an American television audience, to boot. If Moraes wins, his stock skyrockets. On the other hand, if he loses badly to Johnson, there is no guarantee he will get an immediate rematch in the increasingly deep and hungry One flyweight division. In other words, “Mikinho”: You only get one shot, do not miss your chance to blow.
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