EXCLUSIVE: Chatri Sityodtong says ONE ‘would have outbid’ Bellator for Horiguchi, gives updates on DJ, Fernandes, and spending adjustments

MixedMartialArts.com had the chance to speak with one of the top executives in mixed martial arts, in ONE Championship CEO and head honcho Chatri Sityodtong.

We spoke with the organization’s co-founder about a wide range of topics including ONE Championship’s current strategy on signing big-ticket free agents. If they were in play for former RIZIN and Bellator bantamweight champion Kyoji Horiguchi during his short time as a free agent. As well as the latest on champions and elite talents in Bibiano Fernandes, Thanh Le, Garry Tonon, Reinier de Ridder, and UFC icon Demetrious Johnson.

You can find all of that and much more in the video above, but if you want the full rundown on the latest with their biggest stars, read it all below.

ONE Championship’s adjusted free-agent spending strategy

Over the last few years, the promotion made waves in adding former UFC champions and stars in Johnson, Eddie Alvarez, Sage Northcutt, and Yushin Okami. However, the flow of moe big-name roster additions has slowed down over the last year. Instead, the promotion has added names with less proven fight resumes in Marcus “Buchecha” Almeida, Oumar “Reug Reug” Kane, and Gordon Ryan.

Sityodtong was asked about the changes. And while he admitted they are always on the hunt for star talent, recent performances by big-name free agents have forced an adjustment in their thinking.

“I think globally, our scouts and competition team, we’re always looking for the very best athletes in the world. Whether they’re rising stars, rookies, or established stars. We want the best pound-for-pound athletes in every weight division. I think UFC and ONE has the two best rosters on the planet. I think we’re stronger than UFC in the lighter weight classes and they’re stronger than us in the heavier classes,” Sityodtong told MixedMartialArts.com.

“Of course, we have to be strategic. Look, all the big stars from the UFC that we recruited all ended up getting knocked out. So obviously, on a return on investment perspective it didn’t pan out the way we thought. … We just thought, we’re paying these big dollars and it’s just not panning out the way we would like.”

Chatri Sityodtong questions Kyoji Horiguchi signing so quickly with Bellator

A big story in the MMA sphere this week was the news that RIZIN star Kyoji Horiguchi was a free agent. But almost as soon as the world knew that he was available, Bellator quickly announced he had joined the promotion. The deal reportedly also allows him to return to Japan and compete for RIZIN on occasion.

Sityodtong revealed he never was able to start negotiations with the UFC veteran, and he believes he made a poor financial decision by not testing his value further.

“By the time Bellator announced [the signing] we just started to reach out. When he announced his free agency, he was a free agent for a day,” Sityodtong said with a laugh. “That evening he signed his documents with Bellator. Obviously, I would have loved to have the chance to talk to Horiguchi and we definitely would have outbid Bellator for sure. So he didn’t make the most optimal economic decision for his fight career. But I understand it because RIZIN and Bellator are very close, and it is what it is.”

Will Demetrious Johnson and Bibiano Fernandes return in 2021?

Headlines were made early in the summer when reigning bantamweight champion Bibiano Fernandes went public with his recent frustrations in not getting a fight since October of 2019 and difficulties in communicating with ONE Championship brass. It seems those issues have been quelled and he’s signed a new deal with the organization.

“I just had a Zoom call with Bibiano on Friday. It went well, we came to an agreement, he’s happily signing his new contract, and he’s going to be fighting later this year,” said Sityodtong.

Fernandes’ long-time teammate and former UFC flyweight great Demetrious Johnson has not competed since his second-round knockout loss to flyweight champion Adriano Moraes in April. The promotional boss says the MMA legend is booked for a fight this year, and more detailed news will be coming soon.

“DJ’s already signed for his next fight,” he revealed. “His opponents also signed, I just haven’t announced it. I’m actually announcing it later this week.”

Eduard Folayang in kickboxing or Muay Thay?

Two-time lightweight champion Eduard Folayang is in the midst of a rough patch. He has lost four straight and six of his last seven. Although Sityodtong feels the Filipino is still a talented fighter at 36-years-old, his grappling being a continued Achilles heel has been problematic.

When the idea of Folyang instead competing for ONE Championship in kickboxing or Muay Thai was suggested, the organization’s boss was open to the notion.

“I wouldn’t count Eduard out. He still wants it badly. He really believes he can be world champion again, and that’s his goal. … It’s very possible we put him in kickboxing or Muay Thai,” he said.

Reinier de Ridder and Thanh Le updates

When it comes to the featherweight, middleweight, and light heavyweight titles, expect both of those to be defended soon.

Reinier de Ridder’s had a massive last 12 months. He usurped the middleweight and light heavyweight titles from long-time champ Aung La Nsang and suggested he would like to go for heavyweight gold next. However, Sityodtong revealed a title defense first is in the Dutch stars future.

chatri sityodtong, one championship
Credit: ONE Championship

As for the featherweight title and new champion Thanh Le, his first title defense will be against long-expected opponent Garry Tonon, and it will happen this year.

“That fight has been offered and accepted and I just haven’t announced it yet. The fight is officially on and both have accepted the date and the venue,” Sityodtong said.

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