Everybody wants to see what would happen when two big MMA promotions pit their fighters against each other. Typically, the discussed pairing involves the UFC and the few big promotions that have stood across from it. However, it might be more beneficial if the match-up pits two of the UFC’s rivals against each other. For example, there’s now talk of a World Series of Fighting and ONE Championship cross-promotional event.
The ONE bantamweight champion, Bibiano Fernandes, mentioned how he would be open to fighting WSOF champ Marlon Moraes. Both fighters are conceivably the best 135-pound competitors that are not in the UFC.
A cross-promotional fight like this one would do wonders for both guys, as would any where a fighter throws their hat in the ring to take on the best opponents in other promotions. While a cross-promotional event isn’t completely necessary to keeping a fighter relevant, it can only help to strengthen the fighter’s resume and therefore legitimize that competitor as a member of the top-10 in their division.
Outside of the UFC, promotions tend to field shallow divisions. Many of the best fighters are signed to MMA’s largest promotion. You get the occasional one or two really good fighters in other promotions like the WSOF, Bellator or ONE Championship, but it’s very rare that there is enough of a division there to make it seem really challenging for the champion. Look at a division like heavyweight where, outside of the UFC (and even in the UFC, really), there is a big dropoff in the high-level talent. The few good fighters are scattered across various promotions, and their list of opponents is awfully thin and usually contains fighters who would not normally be considered as worthy title challengers.
A fight between Moraes and Fernandes would make a lot of sense for that very reason. Each fighter would get a name of high caliber in a place where they otherwise can’t really get it. Fernandes has been one of the top non-UFC fighters in the bantamweight division for quite some time while competing on the Asian MMA circuit, and Moraes has developed really well under the WSOF banner, etching himself a nice position in some top-10 bantamweight rankings. However, critics can simply point to their records and argue that they don’t belong in those rankings at all.
Moraes, for example, does suffer from a lack of a really big name on his resume. Sure, his victory over Miguel Torres gives him one name that resonates with fans, but it came at the start of a decline for Torres. The rest of the Muay Thai black belt’s WSOF run doesn’t exactly read like a who’s who of the bantamweight division, with names like Tyson Nam, Brandon Hempleman and Carson Beebe rounding out his march toward a title fight and Josh Rettinghouse, Cody Bollinger, Josh Hill and Sheymon Moraes cast as the victims during the Florida-based Brazilian’s WSOF title reign. Those are all skilled fighters, but they aren’t widely considered to be in the same league with the T.J. Dillashaws, Renan Barãos or even the Marcos Galvãos of the 135-pound weight class.
The criticism can apply to the record of Fernandes, whose biggest win might just be his victory over Joe Warren almost six years ago. The Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt, much like Moraes, has faced opponents with strong records but little in the way of an elite reputation. His ONE debut, and only non-title fight with the Asian promotion, came against Gustavo Falciroli. He won the interim belt in a fight against Koetsu Okazaki and unified the title with a win over Soo Chul Kim. His three defenses came against opponents with a combined 38-3-4 record when they challenged Fernandes, but those opponents include the largely unheralded Dae Hwan Kim and Toni Tauru. The Brazilian grappler’s other successful defense came against Masakatsu Ueda, whose name is more well known across the MMA world, therefore providing Fernandes with arguably the better record when compared against Moraes.
A fight between the two inevitably would help one fighter. The victor would be the consensus best bantamweight outside of the UFC, and his victory against another top fighter would allow him to become a much bigger commodity with a much stronger case for inclusion in the top-10 polls.
The argument for cross-promotional fights to strengthen a fighter’s resume and reputation extends past the bantamweight division. The welterweight division, where ONE champion Ben Askren resides, is another good example. While Askren is probably the lone fighter from either ONE Championship or the WSOF who doesn’t really need the cross-promotional fight to stay relevant, it certainly would help to bolster his position as an elite 170-pounder. Askren has done a great job of being entirely relevant while fighting in Asia. He was once an extremely dominant champion in Bellator, too, and the whole saga with the UFC not signing him after that tenure has really pushed him to the forefront of the best fighters outside of the UFC.
Fans might not want to see Askren fight due to a stigma that built up of him being a boring fighter in Bellator. That really shouldn’t be the case considering he has finished every opponent since his April 2012 fight with Douglas Lima. That is a span of four victories and one no-contest. But that whole debate is an entirely different article. All in all, Askren is an outlier in this sort of discussion, but a fight between him and Jake Shields could stand as the biggest test either man could face outside of the UFC.
Fights between any of the champions of promotions such as the WSOF and ONE Championship could only help to keep these promotions’ top fighters relevant in the bigger picture, and a cross-promotional card could be a huge event that draws eyeballs that don’t normally watch the offerings from these companies.