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How ONE Championship is Beating UFC in Asia

The Asian mixed martial arts company is emerging as the Eastern answer to the West’s UFC

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BY Cristina Morales - 27 Jul 2017

one championship asian martial arts

PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

For years, the mixed martial arts world was dominated by UFC. That is, until 2011, when ONE Championship emerged in Asia. Now Asia’s largest sports media property, ONE Championship has taken a firm hold of the world’s most populous region.

ONE Championship has recently raised $100 million of capital from financial and business giants like Heliconia Capital (a division of Temasek, Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund) and Sequoia Capital (India). The latter has invested in companies that control up to $1.4 trillion of combined stock market value; some of the brands Sequoia has invested in are Apple, Google, Oracle, PayPal, Stripe, YouTube, Instagram, Yahoo!, and WhatsApp.

Because of ONE’s growth over the last few years, the company has been able to secure an impressive list of top blue-chip sponsors such as Disney, Facebook, Marvel, Under Armour, Sony, Universal Music Group, GoDaddy, Haier, Kawasaki, and L’Oreal.

How did this 6-year-old organization dominate the Asian martial arts scene? Here are 4 lessons entrepreneurs can learn.

1. A local focus

Asia has been home to martial arts for the past 5,000 years, and one of ONE Championship’s goals is to help the sport flourish in the region. The promotion does this by bringing Asian martial arts like Silat, Muay Thai, and Lethwei into the spotlight.

“The fighting culture in Asia is a lot more appreciated and that is what ONE really excels at,” says Matt Eaton, editor-in-chief of The Fight Nation. “From Muay Thai to Lethwei, ONE has allowed all these unique martial arts to flourish.”

To build excitement around its brand, ONE Championship rallies communities around local heroes like Angela Lee (Singapore), Eduard Folayang (Philippines), and Aung La Nsang (Myanmar).

“ONE really takes the time and effort to promote each individual competitor and build that athlete’s fanbase,” Eaton says.

2. Showmanship

The atmosphere at a ONE Championship event is like a rock concert. Laid out around the entrance to stadiums is red carpet leading to glamorous VIP sections. Fighter introductions are punctuated by a world-class pyrotechnics show. In-house DJs—and even rock bands and singers—blast music in the stadium.

The fusion of spectacle and sport, as well as ONE’s understanding of what Asians want, has led to ONE consistently selling out thousand-seater stadiums across the region. “We sold out the Singapore Indoor Stadium for the last ONE event, a little over 12,000 people,” says Loren Mack, ONE’s vice president of public relations and communications. According to Mack, UFC’s events in some of the same Asian cities draw a significantly smaller crowd.

According to Mack, ONE holds at least one live event each month all across major cities in Asia; in 2018, it plans to mount 24-30.

3. Focus on social media and TV

Data from Facebook, Nielsen, and Repucom shows that ONE Championship’s reach has grown exponentially over the last three years.

ONE has come from 352 million social media impressions to a projected 4.8 billion by the end of the year—more than a 13-fold increase. ONE’s video views have also ballooned, from 312,000 to 600 million video views projected by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, ONE has increased its TV broadcast time from just 12-18 hours in 2014 to 100-1800 hours.

4. Strong leadership

A great leader is vital to any organization’s success, and ONE Championship is no exception. Helming the ship is Chatri Sityodtong, an entrepreneur with a deep understanding of the role of martial arts in Asian culture.

“Asia has been the home of martial arts for over 5,000 years,” he says in an earlier interview with Inc. Southeast Asia. “ONE Championship is an authentic celebration of Asia's greatest cultural treasure and its deep-rooted values of honor, integrity, humility, courage, strength, and discipline.”