Singapore’s One Championship is far and away the biggest mixed martial arts promotion in Asia. They broadcast in millions of homes in dozens of countries, and have taken their live product to relatively untapped markets like Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, China and even further afield.
One Championship’s approach to MMA promotion is a little bit different than what we’re used to here in the West. Where organizations like Bellator and World Series of Fighting tend to squabble over jettisoned UFC talent to bolster their rosters with recognizable names, One Championship is dedicated to building their own Asian stars. And this strategy is working.
Over the course of its almost six years of existence, One Championship has turned fighters like Angela Lee, Eduard Folayang, Jadamba Narantungalag, Ev Ting, Kevin Belingon, Brandon Vera, Kairat Akhmetov, Aung La N Sang and Dejdamrong Sor Amnuaysirichoke into superstars in their respective countries of heritage and in larger Asia.
One’s success in this effort can be stacked up in large part to the hard work and vision of company president, Victor Cui. On this week’s episode of BJ Penn Radio, Cui joined host Kinch to discuss his promotion’s star-building strategy, and its goal of upholding the traditional values of the martial arts.
“One of the things that we’ve really focused on at One is building Asian heroes,” he said. “Why I say that is that, in the world of sports in Asia, there’s just really not a lot of sports that Asians can become world champions at. Not to put myself down, but most of the sports [in Asia], we imported from the West. Football, tennis, F-1, basketball… those are not Asian sports, and we follow those [Western] heroes. Rightly so, because they’re the best heroes in the world from the West, but Asians have only been adapting in those sports over the last few decades. But martial arts, that’s in our blood. We’ve been doing it for the last 5000 years. So we have heroes here that are outright some of the most legitimate world champions, some of the most legitimate athletes and martial artists in the world.”
“We look to build those heroes in Asia, and when we do, we see nations gravitate towards them and rise up to support them even if they’re not a world champion,” Cui continued. “Angela Lee is a great example where initially, the entire nation of Singapore came around to support her. Jenny [Huang], as a Chinese, every Chinese is supporting her. You’ve got Brendon Vera in The Philippines, Aung La N Sang in Myanmar… Aung La N Sang fought in Myanmar, and everything in that nation stopped. I heard, anecdotally from people that were there in Myanmar, that when he fought in Singapore for the title, everything in that country stopped. People put their TVs out on the streets, and they just were cheering for him. He was their version of Manny Pacquiao.”
One Championship has become such a popular destination for fighters – both Asian and Western – that Cui said the promotion is currently inundated with requests to sign new talent.
“The problem that we’re having right now is that we have too many fighters from around the world that want to compete on One. I probably get hundreds of e-mails a week from athletes, coaches, gyms, that are trying to get on One because they know it’s an opportunity for them to reach a whole new demographic in a whole new part of the world.”
How Cui sifts through the many fighters interested in joining the One roster is simple. He wants fighters who represent the traditional values of the martial arts.
“What we’re looking for is athletes who want to make a difference in this world through the power of martial arts,” he said. “That’s the first thing I would say. For me, the spirit of martial arts in what we do is very, very important. Asia is deep and rich in the history of martial arts, and our athletes, because they are leaders in the community, they represent the values of martial arts. They’re not just fighters, they’re not just athletes, these guys are leaders in the community. People look to them to uphold the values of martial arts, of loyalty, respect, integrity, honor, humility, hard work, dedication, all these things that you and I love about the power of martial arts. We’re always looking for athletes that represent that, and that’s what our fan base loves.”
One Championship’s next show, “Warrior Kingdom,” goes down this Saturday in Bangkok, Thailand.
What do you think of the efforts of Victor Cui and One Championship? Sound off, PENN Nation!
This article first appeared on BJPenn.com on 3/9/2017.