It only took five years for ONE Championship to dominate the Asian market. They are attracting sponsors like Disney, Marvel, Facebook, Under Armour, Sony and LG. Founder Chatri Sityodtong, a former Wall Street fund manager, predicts it will be valued at $1 Billion in a few years.
ONE has fourteen events last 2016 and all are jam packed.
The promotion lured decorated fighters like Shinya Aoki, Bibiano Fernandes and Ben Askren from other promotions. It also featured heroes like Eduard Folayang, Angelina Lee and Dejdamrong Sor Amnuaysirichoke.
Also, ONE is now the largest sports media property bagging deals with Fox Sports, Setanta and various Asian media outlets.
ONE is now the best in Asia and are arguably the second worldwide after UFC. Surprising for a young company.
It takes an entrepreneurial genius to achieve this feat.
Playing the Market
UFC has been trying to grow their fanbase in Asia but to little success. The largest MMA promotion seems not to understand the eastern market very well.
Asia is home to many martial art disciplines. We’ve got Muay Thai, Kung Fu, Judo, Taekwondo and Karate to name a few. Shouldn’t it be easy to promote MMA here?
Yes. MMA was present in Asia before ONE came. Japan has many notable promotions. South Korea, the Philippines and Malaysia has been in MMA scene for quite a while. However, these promotions are confined in their respective country.
Uniqueness is a cause to this divide. This diversity is their pillar for national pride – their culture, language and martial arts.
How did ONE succeed in these nations? They played the game on the areas that bind them together – respect, honor and pride.
Asians respect their martial arts. To some, it is a way of life and mixing them is tantamount to blasphemy. ONE took a risk and signed their famous practitioners. It panned out. Fans are learning the MMA language and the martial artists are training to be a well-rounded fighters.
And while UFC is cashing on pre-fight taunting antics, ONE fights start and end with a show of honor. Though different, Asian martial arts are big on honoring the game and your opponent. So are the fans.
Obnoxious and ill-mannered fighters turn off Asian fans. They resent superstars with big attitudes. ONE embraces this by calling their stars heroes. It promotes their athletes’ success story instead of hyping the fight with thrash talks and bad blood.
ONE also banks on national pride. Asians are nationalistic. Instead of worrying about the political divide among the eastern neighbors, ONE is capitalizing on it.
There are segments that pit countries against each other. The fights draw crowds from opposing nations cheering their countrymen. After they brawl it out, the fighters hug and offer their appreciation for each other.
The company also created ONE Network that bonds promotions, gyms fighters and sponsors from all over Asia and the world. This move is not only uniting but also gives a sense of belongingness to the fans.
A Well-rounded Team
Founder and Chairman Sityodtong is confident about the future of ONE Championship. It has a great team running it.
ONE CEO Victor Cui had in the sports media industry for 15 years. He was the senior executive at ESPN Star Sports and been involved in sporting events like the PGA Tour, the X Games, and the Olympic Games.
Rich Franklin is not only a former UFC champion. He also ran profitable businesses in apparel and wellness. He is now the vice-president of ONE.
Matt Hume is a well-known MMA genius that trains athletes and officiates fights. He is now ONE’s VP for operations and the match maker.
Pithambar Gona who was a managing director at Blackstone is now their Chief Financial Officer.
Kevin Matas, the guy who was in charge of Red Bull’s social media marketing, is ONE’s head of marketing.
Kevin Sim, a former sales and marketing director at MP & Silva, now works for ONE as Head of Media Rights Sales.
Each has brought their expertise, connection and passion that are multipliers to ONE’s unprecedented success.
For founders Chatri and Cui, this is a calling. They were businessmen, martial artists and prodigal sons of Asia.
Chatri has to leave Thailand to grind it out in the US after his family went bankrupt. Teaching of Muay Thai, he went on to be a multimillionaire hedge fund manager in Wall Street.
Cui was born in Canada but of Filipino and Chinese descent. Learned the ropes of sports industry and went to Singapore to start an MMA promotion.
They have a vision of MMA in Asia. They have the skillset to make it happen.
Amazingly the chips keep falling their way – whether with the fighters, the fans or the personnels. Asia see what they’re doing and like what they saw.
THE founders were talking about Asia is the home of martial arts and the only sports that is truly Asian. How Asia lacks sports heroes they’ve been importing western athlete icon.
They’re on a mission to highlight Asia and the East is on board.