What happens when a young organization plays around with the rules of an established sport? Can a few innocuous changes completely alter a centuries-old system that takes it to a new level?
Not only do I believe that this can happen, but it is also happening right before our eyes on the biggest stage possible and in real-time.
This is how ONE Super Series brings out the best in Muay Thai.
A Quick History of ONE Super Series
ONE CEO Chatri Sityodtong first broke the news about ONE Super Series via Facebook post on 12 February 2018.
According to the post, the league was meant to feature all manner of striking arts Taekwondo and Lethwei. But as the years moved on it mostly focused on Kickboxing and Muay Thai.
The first card that featured ONE Super Series fights was ONE: Heroes of Honor a couple of months after the announcement. The fighters included in that card are current Lightweight Kickboxing Champion Regian Eersel, current Bantamweight Muay Thai Champion Nong-O Gaiyanghadao, and living legends Giorgio Petrosyan and Smokin Jo Nattawut.
Through the years, ONE has been tweaking and their rule set to encourage a more competitive and exciting sport. They went through a phase of experimentation but seems to settle on a formula that works for them and their fans.
ONE Super Series currently has ten champions in seven weight divisions featuring both established legends and exciting up and comers.
The level of fame and talent quickly congregating within the league puts it on the fast track to equal the prestige of older international promotions and Thailand super stadium shows.
The most noticeable change that ONE Super Series introduced, endearing itself to fighters and fans alike is the use of four-ounce gloves or MMA gloves.
The commentary team will repeatedly mention the huge difference these gloves make in the power that a fighter can deliver.
Many people will point to the power aspect of the equation to be the biggest change for the Muay Thai game. However, I would argue the opposite.
There is some debate about whether there is any difference in the damage output between these gloves and their boxing counterpart. What isn’t open for debate though is their role in diminishing a fighter’s defense.
This article in Muay Thai Pros describes the guard as the fighters last line of defense.
Since MMA gloves are significantly smaller in width it’s nowhere near as effective as a guard. When it comes to defending against the harder punchers in the sport, the guard almost becomes non-existent.
It’s either the punches are easier to send down the gap in the middle of the arms, or it’s easier to break through the guard completely.
Some examples include Alaverdi Ramazanov vs. Andrew Miller, Smokin Jo Nattawut vs. Yohann Fairtex Drai.
The use of these gloves discourages the shell defense while encouraging Muay Mat, an aggressive, knockout friendly game-plan. This is anathema to the philosophy of many gyms that prioritize excellent defense even at the expense of offense.
This isn’t to say the ONE Super Series fighters forego all their defensive techniques. It’s just that one of their most important tools of the sport isn’t as effective within this particular league.
The ONE Championship Circle
The field of battle is just as important as any aspect of the engagement. Many battles throughout history clearly demonstrate that if you don’t understand your environment you will lose.
The ONE Championship circle presents a lot of intriguing changes that some fighters find useful.
First, the lack of corners makes it harder to trap opponents, making it easier to circle out (pun) of sticky situations. This provides an extra challenge to fighters that are used to shepherding opponents to corners to render them immobile.
All of that space makes elusive defenders like Lerdsila Phuket Top Team so much harder to hit than in the ring.
Second, the wire mesh of the cage slightly alters several aspects of Muay Thai from the clinch to sweeps and dumps. This makes sense considering how one of the original intentions of the cage design was not to disadvantage grapplers.
Khabib for example, one of his strategies is to use the cage wall to trap and control his opponents. He pushes them into that bottom corner where the only chance of escape is to literally push him off.
The promotion often alternates between the circle and the ring, so the differences, in this case, are smaller in comparison. But if we get a chance to see Muay Thai fights more consistently within the cage, I don’t doubt that we’ll see an uptick in elusive defenses and clinching.
The Judging and the Rounds
The peculiarities of scoring a Muay Thai bout can be a bit confusing for anyone outside of Thailand. Rather than the 10 must system of boxing, the bout is scored in its entirety.
Evolve MMA explains the difference like this. If at the end of a match, one fighter wins the first three rounds of a five-round fight he’s automatically the winner in a 10 must system.
When the bout is scored in its entirety, the difference in competition will be taken into account.
If the difference between the fighters in the first three rounds is razor-thin, but the “losing” fighter dominates the last two, he can still win the fight.
It’s an intentionally vague system that allows much more leeway in the later rounds.
This is important because as many people correctly observe, a traditional Muay Thai fight only picks up in the second or third rounds. There are various explanations for this.
Some say that the first round is the feeling out process where fighters figure out their range and distance. While others posit that it has something to do with betting rules and culture around the sport.
Regardless of the reason, the slow start is easily observable in all the Muay Thai fighters in ONE Super Series.
The promotion turns the tables on all of this by making all normal fights three rounds and adopting a 10 must system. That’s not a lot of time to make an impression.
This was done with one thing in mind – urgency. Every round counts and all fighters need to start quickly or play catch-up.
This method allows the audience to follow the action more easily. Casual viewers don’t get left behind and are entertained.
ONE Super Series Muay Thai
There are two types of Muay Thai fighters, the skill fighter and the aggressive fighter. The skill fighter is one that stays at distance to win on points, while the aggressive fighter is one that forces the fight on their terms and wins via knockout.
All fighters have a natural preference for one of these. Buakaw is the perfect example of an aggressive fighter, while Petchmorakot Petchyindee Academy is a skill fighter.
Skill fighters, also known as Muay Femur are considered the best in Thailand and are heavily favored when it comes to scoring. However, the best Muay Femur have the ability to switch between the two depending on their opponent.
The OSS rules, however, aren’t content with allowing fighters to switch, they are forcing fighters to be both simultaneously.
The small gloves and three round limit force fighters to move forward as soon as possible. While the 10 must system and open space of the Circle is the perfect ground for point fighting.
Good examples: Elias Mahmoudi vs. Lerdsila Phuket Top Team, Jonathan Haggerty vs. Sam-A Gaiyanghadao, Savvas Michael vs. Singtongnoi Por Telakun, Nong-O Gaiyanghadao vs. Saemapetch Fairtex.
The winners of these fights won because of skill, but they constantly moved forward with aggression looking to end the fight. They never had to switch gears as they were already doing both.
This is what ONE Super Series Muay Thai brings to the table.
What do you guys think? Am I onto something or way off? Do these rules benefit Muay Thai as a combat sport or take away from its beauty? Let us know.
Who do you think the best Muay Thai fighter of all time is? Check out who that might be right here.
Also, be sure to check out the Overtime Heroics Forums page to join in on the discussion!