ONE Championship Denver: Capturing the Rise of Jackie Buntan

In the world of combat sports, few events can match the electrifying atmosphere and adrenaline-pumping action of ONE Championship. Recently, I had the privilege of documenting one of the rising stars of this organization - Jackie Buntan from Boxing Works. Known for her highlight reel-worthy fights, Jackie has been making waves with her remarkable skills and undeniable talent in the sport of Muay Thai. In March, I had the opportunity to witness her face off against Australia’s Diandra Martin in a full rules Muay Thai match. Join me as I take you through the journey of Jackie’s fight camp and the awe-inspiring display of athleticism in the ring.

Inside the Fight Camp: 

Before the much-anticipated match, I was fortunate enough to gain exclusive access to Jackie’s fight camp, where I had the opportunity to document her grueling training sessions alongside her coach, Bryan Popejoy. Witnessing their meticulous preparation was nothing short of inspiring. Through intense sparring sessions and rounds of pad work, it became evident that Jackie’s success in the ring was not just a result of her natural talent but also a testament to the dedication and strategic planning of her coach and herself.

The Body as a Weapon:

As a photographer who has captured athletes in various disciplines, I have always been fascinated by the immense power and precision these fighters possess. Their bodies, transformed into lethal weapons, can deliver devastating blows with their knees, elbows, and feet. However, what truly sets apart a champion fighter is their mental strength and agility. It’s not just about throwing punches, knees, elbows, and kicks; it’s about how they apply their game plan, adapt to their opponent’s tactics, and make split-second adjustments based on the guidance from their corners.

Arriving in Denver: 

Three days before the event, I touched down in Denver and immediately connected with Bryan to begin capturing the moments leading up to Jackie’s fight. With some time to spare before Jackie had to cut weight for the official weigh-ins, we hung out and explored the city. At the hotel, there were dedicated workout rooms for the athletes, and I took the opportunity to photograph Jackie as she donned a sweat suit, shedding those last few pounds of water weight.

Press Conference: 

In the heart of downtown Denver, ONE Championship held a press conference that brought together various media outlets, including representatives from AMAZON and other esteemed organizations across the United States. It was an exciting opportunity to network with fellow professionals and share in the anticipation of the upcoming event. 

Official Weigh-Ins: 

On the morning of the weigh-ins, I woke up bright and early, around 5 am, to capture Jackie’s final efforts to cut water weight. With determination in her eyes, she made weight successfully, but unfortunately missed the hydration requirements. Janet Todd, Jackie’s teammate and the ONE Kickboxing Atomweight Champion, arrived to provide her support. Together, Bryan, Jackie, Janet, and I returned to the gym, where Jackie engaged in water loading and light exercise to shed the remaining weight. During the second attempt, Jackie missed weight again but passed hydration. Interestingly, Diandra, Jackie’s opponent, also missed hydration, and both teams agreed to compete at a catch weight.

Televised Weigh-Ins and Rehearsal:

After the official weigh-ins, we made our way to the event center, where we participated in a rehearsal and conducted the televised weigh-ins and face-offs. The atmosphere was vibrant, with all the athletes exuding excitement and taking memorable photos and selfies as they relished the moment.

War Braids:

Later that evening, I had the opportunity to document a significant pre-fight tradition—Jackie getting her hair styled. A skilled stylist arrived at her room, meticulously weaving her hair into tight cornrows. This practice, known as “war braids,” is a common ritual among female athletes, symbolizing their mental and physical preparation for battle.

Fight Day: 

As fight day arrived, I found myself ringside alongside familiar photographers, basking in the exhilarating energy permeating the arena. Jackie stepped into the ring, ready to showcase her skills. 

In an awe-inspiring display, she delivered a TKO victory over Diandra Martin in the first round, leaving the crowd in awe. 

Following the fight, Jackie and her team met with the CEO of ONE Championship, Chatri Sityodtong, expressing their gratitude for the opportunity.

 One of my favorite shots from that day captured Jackie reveling in her triumph, surrounded by adoring fans who cheered her name.

I am immensely grateful for the remarkable people I met during my time at ONE Championship’s Denver event. The dedication and hard work of the entire team behind the scenes made the event a resounding success. From capturing the intensity of the fighters during training to witnessing Jackie’s victorious moment, it was an unforgettable experience. 

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