ONE spent years grooming 'world class' Asian talent, says former UFC star Rich Franklin

ONE spent years grooming 'world class' Asian talent, says former UFC star Rich Franklin

Now the vice-president of Singapore-based ONE, Franklin also believes Angela Lee “would do more than just hold her own” against Joanna Jedrzejczyk in a battle between the champions of the rival promotions.

Former UFC champion Rich "Ace" Franklin speaking on October 28, 2011 in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo: Rick Diamond/Getty Images/AFP)

SINGAPORE: Vice-president of ONE Championship and former Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) star Rich Franklin on Monday (Jun 19) fired the latest salvo in an ongoing war of words between the latter US-based mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion company and its Asian rival.

Last Saturday after UFC’s second Singapore show, senior vice-president Joe Carr described ONE as a grassroots league for fighters to migrate to the UFC from. He also said earlier in the week that comparing ONE to UFC was like pitting local Southeast Asian football leagues against the English Premier League.

“These sound like comments from somebody who doesn’t do business on this side of the world that often,” Franklin, 42, told Channel NewsAsia. “They do one show at a time; we spent years developing talent over here.”

“We’re the competitor to them and we put on a great show. Our show is quality from start to finish. Our fighters are world class from start to finish.”

The recent UFC event attracted over 8,400 spectators to the Singapore Indoor Stadium, up from over 5,200 for its first gig here in 2014 at Marina Bay Sands. ONE Championship, which has staged all its Singapore shows at the Indoor Stadium, drew numbers in the region of 6,000 when it inaugurated in 2011 but has reported sold-out attendances in the 12,000-capacity stadium since late 2015.

“That’s the difference between one organisation coming here to put on a show, and another organisation operating on this side of the world,” said Franklin, who joined ONE in April 2014.

“Clearly, we’ve been over here doing due diligence, putting the hard work in, and people know this brand here - not just because of the brand itself but because we’re also building local heroes here.”

“In Singapore we have an atomweight (52kg) champion who’s half-Singaporean and the crowd’s taken to her not just because of her nationality but because of her skill level,” he added, referring to ONE’s rising star Angela Lee, who was born in Vancouver and raised in Hawaii to a Singaporean father and South Korean mother.

Lee celebrating her second successful title defence at ONE Championship (Photo: Justin Ong) 

CHAMPION VS CHAMPION?

UFC's Carr also commented on Lee last week, stating that the 20-year-old was not yet UFC-standard and “a long way” from competing against Joanna Jedrzejczyk, the UFC’s champion strawweight (also 52kg under a different ruleset).

But Franklin, himself a UFC middleweight champion from 2005 to 2006, said he “absolutely” disagreed.

“Quite frankly, I would stack any one of our champions here against any champion in the world,” he declared, singling out the undefeated Lee as well as welterweight titleholder Ben Askren and bantamweight king Bibiano Fernandes.

“If you watch any of our shows, I’m sure their talent speaks volumes for what they’re capable of doing.”

Franklin also pointed to a response to Carr made by ONE chairman Chatri Sityodtong, inviting Jedrzejczyk to step in the cage with Lee as soon as next month.

“I would love to see that. I think Angela would do more than just hold her own against their champion,” said Franklin, who compiled a record of 29 wins and seven losses before calling time in 2015 on a career which started back in 1999.

Franklin (L) during a bout against Vitor Belfort on September 19, 2009 in Dallas, Texas (Photo: Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images/AFP)

“And all of this is just one man’s opinion - you can look at the track record of the athletes and judge for yourself.”

Earlier in June, UFC fighter Michelle Waterson remarked that Lee was “not competing at the same level as athletes” in the UFC.

“It sounds like every person in that organisation is just repeating the same statement over and over and regurgitating it for the media,” said Franklin. “You can keep saying the same thing and I’ll keep saying the same thing back.”

His fellow ONE vice-president Loren Mack also dismissed additional comments by Waterson on Lee being “not very well-known” outside of Asia.

“Angela’s transcending barriers and bringing in a mainstream audience outside of MMA,” he said.

“She’s female, Asian and a fighter: It’s because of what she represents which is why she’s so popular, let alone being an incredible fighter.”

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