MMA: One championship eyes new markets

Chatri Sityodtong is confident his organisation has the right formula to remain a fixture in Asia despite the increasing presence of the Las Vegas-based Ultimate Fighting Championship. He believes One Championship has struck a chord in Asia based on
Chatri Sityodtong is confident his organisation has the right formula to remain a fixture in Asia despite the increasing presence of the Las Vegas-based Ultimate Fighting Championship. He believes One Championship has struck a chord in Asia based on the values of martial arts and celebrating its history and tradition.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

Investment allows for expansion into more countries with China as focus, says founder

In just five years, One Championship has grown from a modest Singapore start-up into Asia's biggest mixed martial arts (MMA) organisation, one with live events in 10 Asian territories and a broadcast reach of 118 countries.

Its rapid rise is set to continue as news broke on Tuesday of an eight-figure investment from Heliconia Capital Management, a subsidiary of Temasek Holdings.

One Championship chairman and founder Chatri Sityodtong believes backing from a blue-chip investor like Temasek will help open more doors with the government and investors as it aims to crack new markets.

He said: "Temasek investing in One Championship is a huge brand endorsement and our partners can see that One Championship is a world-class organisation with the highest levels of integrity.

"When you go into (new) countries, you need support from the government, business and investment community. It's a long process but (the deal) will accelerate that."

He added that the company, on track to surpass the US$1 billion (S$1.37 billion) valuation in 12-18 months, is in talks with more investors as it seeks to crack new markets like India, Japan, Russia and South Korea.

  • ONE C'SHIP HIT LIST

  • LIVE EVENTS IN MORE COUNTRIES

    The promotion currently has shows in 10 territories: Cambodia, China, Chinese Taipei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, United Arab Emirates.

    New markets targeted: Hong Kong, India, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam.


    EXPAND FOOTPRINT IN CHINA

    Events: Four so far (Beijing, Changsha, Guangzhou, Hefei).

    Target: 10 this year.


    LOCK DOWN PRIZED FIGHTERS

    Including Angela Lee, its first women's world champion, and sign up more exponents.

The immediate goal is to create a broader footprint in China, which Chatri said will be helped by Temasek's connections in the world's second-largest economy.

The Thai, a former hedge fund manager, said: "We have held four events in China so far but we'll be making announcements in the coming months regarding China."

The expansion is a vision that ties in with Heliconia's mandate of identifying and supporting Singapore-based companies to be globally competitive.

One such local company that benefited from Heliconia's investment is seafood restaurant chain Jumbo, which wrapped up a successful initial public offering and is now looking to expand in China.

The latest cash boost will also help One Championship lock down its prized fighters including Ben Askren, Shinya Aoki and Angela Lee - stars who are key to the promotion's popularity, according to Chatri.

Lee, who combines her sweet looks with formidable skills in the ring, is among the promoter's biggest stars.

"We've done a great job telling the stories of our heroes and that resonates well with people," he said.

All these will help safeguard its market share in Asia as it wards off the advances of the Las Vegas-based Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).

While there is only one UFC event in Asia this year, that could change after it was acquired for around US$4 billion by a group comprising sports and arts talent group WME-IMG and several prominent private equity firms.

But Chatri, an avid MMA exponent himself, is confident his organisation has the right formula to remain a fixture here.

He said: "UFC has succeeded with marketing a product that is based on sports, violence, fighting, bravado but One Championship has struck a chord in Asia based on the values of martial arts and celebrating its history and tradition.

"So when we recruit fighters. we look at their skills and also their values and character traits.

"It's no coincidence that our biggest stars exemplify values like integrity, courage and honour."

The long-term goal is to become part of "the daily fabric across Asia", and possibly have a show every week.

Explaining his motivation, Chatri said: "Yes, it's entertainment but on a deeper level, it's about providing inspiration, hope and strength to everyone in Asia.

"My mission in life is to unleash greatness through the power of martial arts. That's what drives me."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 14, 2016, with the headline 'One championship eyes new markets'. Print Edition | Subscribe