One C'ship sees big bucks in Macau

Adriano Moraes of Brazil pinning down Kyrgyzstan's Tilek Batyrov before defeating him to take the interim One flyweight world championship title in Macau last Saturday.
Adriano Moraes of Brazil pinning down Kyrgyzstan's Tilek Batyrov before defeating him to take the interim One flyweight world championship title in Macau last Saturday.PHOTO: ONE CHAMPIONSHIP

First event 70% full and it aims to pack in the mainland crowds in line with plans in China

Among its many names, Macau has been called the entertainment capital of Asia, or Las Vegas on steroids. And it is not hard to see why.

A paucity of attractions hardly matters as, supercharged by its 40 swanky casinos, the former Portuguese colony draws more than 14 million tourists each year.

Even on a weekday, it is hard to wander about without bumping into tourists who pack the resorts' walkways.

Which is why One Championship's inaugural event here, which took place last Saturday at the Cotai Arena was monumental for Chatri Sityodtong, chairman and founder of the mixed martial arts (MMA) organisation.

"No one sports organisation has really succeeded here and that's what we want to do. It's the entertainment capital of Asia and we feel there's a lot of (potential) here," said the 45-year-old.

The 15,000-capacity arena was about 70 per cent filled, not bad for an inaugural show. It is clear more needs to be done to fill the venue.

On fight night, dubbed Heroes of the World, boos rang out whenever fighters clinched and grappled, as the crowd bayed for knockouts.

But it helps that Macau has a tradition of hosting fight sport events.

United States-based Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has already held three events there, while in 2013, Manny Pacquiao pummelled Brandon Rios and took the vacant WBO International Welterweight title in front of more than 13,000 fans.

In a way, One Championship's Macau approach mirrors the route of UFC, which swelled in popularity with its shows in Las Vegas' 16,800-seat MGM Grand Garden Arena.

UFC is now a multi-billion dollar enterprise after being acquired by a group led by talent agency WME-IMG for US$4 billion (S$5.37 billion) last month.

One Championship is not far away. Its worth is nearing the US$1 billion mark, especially after a significant eight-figure investment from Heliconia Capital Management, a wholly owned subsidiary of Temasek.

Macau is also unique because it exposes One Championship to the mainland Chinese, who make up more than 65 per cent of tourist arrivals and who tend to have high disposable incomes.

This ties in with the organisation's plans to increase its footprint in China. One Championship has scheduled three shows in the mainland this year but are planning to add another two before the year ends.

Chatri, a former hedge fund manager, said: "China is the spiritual home of martial arts. It's a very important market for us.

"We just opened offices in Shanghai and Beijing and we hope to announce a major Chinese partner in the coming months."

As part of its efforts to crack the China market, One Championship has even modified its rules, steering away from MMA's reputation for being violent and bloody to something that is palatable for a mainstream audience.

A move called the soccer kick, similar to kicking a football but performed on a prone fighter, has now been banned - because it looks dangerous.

A muay thai exponent himself, Chatri said: "No one's had any serious injury from it but at the same time I can understand why people think a soccer kick is dangerous.

"Especially with investment from (Heliconia), we are seeing an institutionalisation of the sport. We want everybody in Asia to watch... to reach the common man who doesn't know anything about martial arts, to be exciting for them, and not as dangerous."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 16, 2016, with the headline 'One C'ship sees big bucks in Macau'. Print Edition | Subscribe