2016 was definitely a blast for MMA in the U.S. considering the $4 billion sales of UFC and the abrupt rise of Bellator. However, this world’s fast-growing sport is also enjoying an exceptional success on the other side of the globe.
ONE Championship has managed to raise the bar as Asia’s MMA leader at the same time as Rizin Fighting Federation of Japan released its appearance as an international player. There are also notable smaller organizations in the Far East that are all making names.
Chatri Sityodtong, Chairman and Founder of ONE Championship said, “On television, we have all these heroes that are on the other side of the world.”
“So I thought to myself: ‘There has to be a sport that can unify the entire continent.’ Asia’s been the home of martial arts for 5,000 years, but no one’s ever tried to commercialize it large-scale,” he added.
The success of Sityodtong’s company was quick. ONE signed a 10-year media agreement with ESPN Star Sports just months after it’s sold out show at the 12,000-seat Singapore Indoor Stadium. This means that they will be broadcast to over one billion living rooms across Asia.
For just 5 years, ONE Championship became the no.1 sports media property within Asia that was being broadcasted to more than 100 countries worldwide via local and international networks like Fox Sports Asia.
They have put on 14 events in 2016 which includes the first ever fight card by a huge MMA organization in Thailand which is also the most attended fight card in the history of Macau. ONE also recently broke ground in two new cities in China, the Anhui and Changsha. This trend is said to continue this year, 2017. In line to this, ONE has crowned a 19-year old atomweight champion, Angela Lee who is now the youngest female MMA world champion.
For the record, ONE Championship has already hosted various events in 10 Asian countries which will be added soon on May 27 for a fight card in Bangkok, Thailand. Now that the company is continuously expanding across the borders, one of its appeals is about the rivalries between countries since they are featuring local fighters in matchups that would absolutely draw the curiosity of even the most casual observers.
Sityodtong said, “Asia has a tremendous history of conflict between countries. India vs. Pakistan, Japan vs. China, Thailand vs. Myanmar, Singapore vs. Malaysia — there are so many stories that can rile up nationalism.”
“If the best guys from two of these countries fight, there’s going to be massive interest,” he mentioned.
As of writing, the list of champions from ONE is very diverse as it includes fighters not just from Asia but different nations like Shinya Aoki from Japan, Bibiano Fernandes from Brazil, Ben Askren from the USA.