Are knees on the ground and ONE Championship coming to Colorado? (Updated)

one championship
Credit: ONE Championship

When it comes to a United States debut, ONE Championship and Colorado may be a perfect fit.

Colorado could be a perfect US hub for ONE Championship

ONE Championship has long wanted to break into the US market. However, the promotion operates with a ruleset largely familiar to North American mixed martial arts fans, with one particularly notable rule difference. The organization, which self-regulates events all over Asia, allows knees to the head of a grounded opponent. This is not allowed under MMA’s unified rules in the US or Canada.

A barrier One Championship needs to navigate in North America is to either adopt their promotion to the local ruleset–which does vary a bit from jurisdiction to jurisdiction–or to find a jurisdiction that is okay with their own unique rules. Enter Colorado.

one championship
Credit: ONE Championship

In May 2021, Colorado adopted a new set of combative sports rules. For mixed martial arts, these rules default to the Association of Boxing Commissions unified rules. However, under section 1.4(H)(2) of these rules, the commission enjoys the ability to designate a “recognized sanctioning organization” and allow that organization to implement its own unique rules for combative sports events.

The full section reads as follows:

Combative sports events, contests or bouts not sanctioned by an organization recognized as a National Olympic Committee by the International Olympic Committee must submit the organization’s by-laws and rules for review by the Director. If approved by the Director, the organization will be deemed a Director Approved Sanctioning Organization and may apply for a permit. A Director Recognized Sanctioning Organization does not meet the definition of tough-person fighting under section 12-110-104(16)(a), C.R.S. It is the responsibility of the organization to notify the Director of any changes to the
organization’s rules and re-submit them for the Director’s review 30 days prior to any permitted event, contest or bout.

This section gives broad rule review powers to the commission and is flexible enough to approve something like ONE Championship’s desired ruleset. Colorado is one of the more progressive jurisdictions that allows Muay Thai bouts to proceed with traditional rules such as the 12-6 elbow, which is prohibited by many North American jurisdictions. Allowing ONE Championship rules would not be far off from such a precedent.

After contacting the Colorado Office of Combative sports under an open record request, CombatSportsLaw and were able to confirm that ONE Championship rules have been approved in the state, which indeed clears the way for the promoter to hold an event with knees to a grounded opponent.

Below is the full reply from the commission:

In response to your questions:
1. On June 25, 2021, the Director of the Colorado Combative Sports Commission completed a rule review on the One Championship Cageside rules. 
Per Commission rule 1.4, a Director Recognized Sanctioning Organization is defined as “A nationally, internationally, regionally, state or tribal organization approved by the Director that may rank participants within each weight class or sanctions and approves contests or bouts in those weight classes.”
After review, the Director granted One Championships request to become a Director Recognized Sanctioning Organization under Rule 1.4. However, the Director determined that One would need to file the appropriate permits with the Commission before conducting any events. 
2. The Director approved the Cageside One Championship Global Ruleset.

ONE Championship is a Singapore-based organization that also features Muay Thai, kickboxing, and grappling competition. I

Via Combat Sports Law Blog.