Thursday, May 16, 2019

Thoughts on ONE Championship’s Agent Certification Program

This whole announcement was def a head-scratcher for a lot of people. It came just a week after ONE made a big splash by announcing their new production studio that will create movies and shows for digital distribution.

On the surface, the underpinnings of the certification program seem reasonable for the most part. But the very first point causes pause…
  • Currently a resident in Asia for at least one (1) year
  • No prior criminal record
  • No history or current ongoing matters of legal or lawsuit activity with any athlete
  • A minimum of 10 years of related experience in the martial arts industry
  • Must possess a College or University Degree

Now Chatri would go on to explain in some social media posts that lacked any significant details that this program was being put into place because of some issues several fighters have gone through recently and that exceptions to the criteria could be made on a case by case basis.

I came across an article from Low Kick MMA of comments from Chatri that goes into a bit more depth about the stated motivations for the certification program and ONEs willingness to make exceptions to the criteria, I’ll have that linked below in the show notes.

Again, on the surface, this all looks like it is being put in place for the benefit of the fighters, and if that is the case then the motivation is great, but it raises some serious questions.

One of the comments in the low kick article that I want to quote here because it throws up some red flags for me is.

“We started with Asia, because if there is an unethical agent it’s very easy for us in Asia to seek justice because we have strong government and business relationships all over the continent,”

Again, even if this is motivated with the best of intentions that quote alone sounds a bit thuggish.

I think it would come as a surprise to no one to know that the type of behavior that Chatri talks about does exist, there are a lot of stories, especially in Asia of agents and managers taking horrible advantage of fighters, but there are also the same stories with regards to promotions. It cuts both ways.

The biggest issue that comes from all of this is, at least in my opinion is that ONE now has a great deal of control and influence over the fighters and the way they do business, both in and out of the organization. And a clear lack of oversights and transparency just makes the waters more turbulent.

There was a fantastic article by MMA Journalist Anthony Walker that was published on Sherdog where he dives into this even further and highlights some of the big conflicts of interest with the whole program.

I’m going to link to his article and his twitter account down in the show notes, def check it out and follow him on Twitter he shares a lot of great MMA Content.

Anthony points out in his article that US sports organizations like the NFL, NBA, MLB all have some type of agent certifications program, but those standards are not set by the league themselves, they are set by the players association to ensure that it is in the best interest of the players, not the organizations.

Something like a players organization is clearly missing from the equation in MMA and is even further from reality in Asian MMA.

That doesn’t mean that a promotion should step in and enforce such standards, it’s clearly a conflict of interest and the overwhelming lack of transparency in the way ONE operates makes it that much more concerning.

I recently spoke with several ONE fighters who told me their contracts require them to promote the sponsors of ONE Championship without any further compensation, that in itself if it’s true, would seem the type of thing a good agent would advise against.

While the sentiment of an agent certification program seems all well and good the application and enforcement of it by the promotor raises a whole lot of red flags for me. The lack of transparency on the process and how it’s applied also tosses up a lot of red flags.

And to be honest, the fact that they are already talking about making exceptions to their rules for the certification before the program is even a month old has me wondering.

At this point, I look around and I am surrounded by red flags.

At the end of the day, I think ONE has done a lot of very good things, a lot of positive things. I think Chatri has taken a very innovative approach to the fight business in treating it as a tech startup, and an approach that I commend him for. But there is always this looming air of distrust with the promotion based on a lot of their actions, and this agent certification policy just adds to that.

What do you guys think about the agent certification policy being instituted by and enforced by ONE Championship? Is it a good thing or is it a conflict of interest? Let me know.

Chatrie’s Further Explanation
Ant Walker Article from Sherdog
Ant Walker on Twitter

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