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ONE exec Rich Franklin says promotion expects U.S. debut in first half of 2023

Ahead of organization's second event on Prime Video, UFC Hall of Famer talks ONE Championship's global expansion.

ONE Championship vice president Rich Franklin has spent the past eight years helping to grow the promotion's brand around the globe, and now, it seems, he'll finally get to do the same on home soil.

Franklin said the Singapore-based ONE's long-rumored debut in the United States is quickly becoming a reality, and he's expecting the organization to hold that historic event sometime in the second quarter of 2023 – and that a few more are likely to follow in short order.

"I can't give any locations or dates yet or whatever, but yeah, we're looking at our first event being Q2 of next year, and we discussed some possible dates and a couple of possible locations that we're kind of honing in on," Franklin told MMA Underground. "Looking at that, and then somewhere between two and four events will be before the end of the year."

ONE Championship debuted in 2011 and has since held more than 200 events, creating an impressive footprint in Asia while making multiple visits to destinations such as China, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand, among others, while also hosting a steady stream of fight cards in the promotion's home nation, as well.

While once focused solely on MMA, the organization has recently embraced a wider range of martial arts, with cards also featuring muay Thai, kickboxing and submission grappling, as well.

Singapore plays hosts to a pair of ONE Championship events this weekend, with Thursday's ONE 161, as well as ONE on Prime Video 2, which takes place Saturday morning but streams live in U.S. primetime on Friday night (8 p.m. ET) in the second event for the promotion to feature on Amazon's streaming platform.

Franklin says ONE's debut on the streaming giant in August proved an overwhelming success.

"For the organization, it was a big change for us working with Prime on the event, and so now I wouldn't say we've quite hit stride yet, but we're excited because based on all the markers that we had for the first event, we way exceeded what Prime Video thought we were going to bring to the table," Franklin said. "Really happy with the performance of that one. The show went well, I think, from a production level, from a technical level, and internally in the company."

ONE on Prime Video 2 is headlined by a historic trilogy fight between two reigning female titleholders, with strawweight titleholder Xiong Jing Nan (17-2) putting her belt on the line against atomweight champ Angela Lee (11-2).

The card also sees featherweight kickboxing champ Superbon Singha Mawynn put his title on the line against Tayfun Ozcan, as well as Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belts Mikey Musumeci and Cleber Sousa competing for the inaugural flyweight submission grappling title.

"This card is just stacked top to bottom," Franklin said.

ONE has already announced dates for monthly events on Prime Video for the remainder of the year, including an October stop in Kuala Lumpur, November in Japan, and a December date in Manila.

The promotion's schedule will get even busier in 2023, with a recent announcement that ONE Championship will host weekly muay Thai cards in Bangkok's famed Lumpinee Boxing Stadium starting next year, in addition to maintaining the organization's already aggressive international schedule.

Franklin will be present for many of the cards, but the UFC Hall of Famer and Ohio native is looking awfully forward to the company's long-awaited U.S. debut.

"These wheels are really, really turning in motion," Franklin said. "I came back from from Singapore and relocated back to the U.S. particularly for this endeavor a little over a year ago now, and so, obviously, the way that the pandemic was handled on the other side of the planet slowed things down for us. Geopolitically, what has gone on with everything around the world kind of slowed things down. 

"(Thursday) night, we finally had had one of those calls where it's like, 'OK, here's our possible dates, here's our possible locations,' and so that actually lit a little fire underneath me and excited me quite a bit. So yeah, that Q2 is what we're looking at next year, and I'm excited to be on the ground. There's no talk yet of who would headline or any of that kind of stuff. Like we're, we're still months away from that, but yeah, it's in motion."

This story first published at SI.com/MMA.