From duelling classmates to business partners

One Championship chairman and chief executive Chatri Sityodtong (far left) and billionaire Saurabh Mittal met at Harvard Business School and even locked horns as classmates. Now, Mr Chatri still counts him as a strategic partner with valuable insight
One Championship chairman and chief executive Chatri Sityodtong (left) and billionaire Saurabh Mittal met at Harvard Business School and even locked horns as classmates. Now, Mr Chatri still counts him as a strategic partner with valuable insight, years after they first hatched the idea for the company over drinks.PHOTO: GIN TAY FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

The recent funds injection into mixed martial arts promoter One Championship came partly on the back of a longstanding friendship, according to chairman and chief executive Chatri Sityodtong.

The sports events firm founded in 2011 with a focus on the Asian market snagged a fresh equity investment in July led by Sequoia Capital India and Mission Holdings. This took the amount raised to US$100 million (S$136.5 million) in all.

One Championship, which organises and broadcasts mixed martial arts events from China to the Philippines, had previously netted a deal worth a "significant eight-figure sum" from a consortium headed by a unit of Singapore investment firm Temasek Holdings.

Mr Chatri, 46, told The Straits Times that One Championship's success is partly due to the support of Indian billionaire Saurabh Mittal, the chairman of Mission Holdings and an old university friend.

"It is a combination of my partnership with Saurabh, the fact that we have an unbelievable leadership team... and the fact that we have a world-class board with Temasek and Sequoia Capital."

Mr Chatri noted that "we have plenty of capital left" but added: "We have a few institutional investors who have circled us quite heavily... and we will choose partners if we believe they can help accelerate the business and give us competitive advantages.

"So, there is a potential that next year, one of these parties will be announced as a potential partner."

Mr Mittal, 43, noted: "Both Temasek and Sequoia sort of fill that (role). The reason we partnered with them was not because they were able to cut a cheque, but because they were able to add significant value to the business."

The two men met at Harvard Business School and even locked horns as classmates.

Mr Mittal - not knowing that Mr Chatri was, and remains, a martial arts fighter - even challenged him to a bout of fisticuffs that, luckily, never materialised.

The men continue to disagree to this day, such as when Mr Mittal argued in vain for the fledgling One Championship to focus more on business processes and less on brand advertisement.

But Mr Chatri said he still counts Mr Mittal as a strategic partner with valuable insight, years after they first hatched the idea for the company over drinks at a downtown Singapore hotel.

And Mr Mittal - who is cagey about his portfolio size, but has previously disclosed that Mission Holdings' entire capital is his own - is banking on his buddy's pet project to pay off.

"The greenfield that exists in Asia in the area of sports... creates a massive, massive opportunity," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 06, 2017, with the headline 'From duelling classmates to business partners'. Print Edition | Subscribe