The Dire State of Kickboxing in ONE: Hiroki Akimoto Speaks Out About His Absence and Why He Declined to Fight Mixed-Rules Fight Against John Lineker – "I Cannot Bend My Ideals as a Professional Kickboxer"

Jan 14, 2024
Hiroki Akimoto wants to get back into the ring. Photo: ONE Championship
The former Bantamweight champion spoke out about his absence at ONE 165.

With ONE 165: Takeru vs. Superlek inching closer, many fans and fighters alike were wondering about the whereabouts of former ONE Bantamweight Kickboxing champion Hiroki Akimoto. The Karateka was last seen in the ring when he lost his title in a big upset against Petchtanong. The Thai has since popped for banned substances and has been stripped of the title

Hiroki Akimoto against Petchtanong.

Instead of throwing the former champion back into the mix, ONE made the baffling decision to instead let ONE Muay Thai champion Jonathan Haggerty and ONE MMA champion Fabricio Andrade fight for the vacant kickboxing title at ONE Fight Night 16. With Akimoto on the sidelines for now more than a year, ONE's homecoming to Japan set the perfect stage for a comeback fight – at least in theory.

Akimoto shared a lengthy post on social media detailing his struggles to get a fight booked, and his dissatisfaction with the short-notice fight ONE has offered him.

"About this Japan event. First. I got a title fight offer against Haggerty. But Haggerty had an injury and could not make it to the event, so I did not get a contract for it.

After that there was talk of a mixed rule or special rule fight with John Lineker. But I strongly discussed with ONE that I want to do a kickboxing match. At the end, there was also talk of a kickboxing match [against Lineker], but I did not get to fight in this event.

I cannot bend my ideals as a professional kickboxer. It is my philosophy that one needs to properly prepare and gameplan before a fight and to do that, adequate time to prepare is necessary.

I think it’s incredible to fight anyone under any rules any time, but that's not what I consider to be a job of a pro.

Now, I train well every day and I wish that I can soon show my improved self to the fans."

Since Rodtang against Demetrious Johnson in 2022 has proven to be a massive success for the promotion, ONE matchmakers have seemingly opted away from building up their divisions in a meaningful way, and instead relied on champion vs. champion and mixed-rules fights to fill the stadium seats. 

Fighters that stick to their lane like many MMA fighters and kickboxers are often left behind and subjugated to a single fight a year.



The promotion has been struggling to offer kickboxers compelling fights – or more often than not, any fights at all – as 2023 has come to an end. Davit Kiria, Arian Sadiković, Tayfun Ozcan and Ilias Ennahachi are just some names that have walked away from the promotion recently, all citing the lack of opportunities ONE has provided them.

Daniel Puertas, No. 3 ranked fighter in ONE's Flyweight Kickboxing division, is the latest athlete in search of greener pastures elsewhere. He shared on social media "I was very happy to fight for ONE but they [did] not give me the opportunity to fight. I even proposed to them, apart from fighting in my category [Flyweight], also to fight in the Bantamweight category, but after a year, I still have not received a call to fight, for this reason my team and I have made the decision to separate from ONE".

Daniel Puertas before the fight.

Baffled at ONE's lack of fight offers he added: "I don't understand why they sign fighters to fight in kickboxing, also while I had a contract with them I asked them several times for permission to fight outside of ONE and they denied it."

The Spanish fighter is back in action at the end of the month, when he takes on Zhao Chongyang at WLF's first event of the year.

Problems run deeper than that, with Bloody Elbow detailing the restrictive state of ONE contracts, which locks many fighters into even longer contract periods in case they decline fights.