ONE Championship has undergone some changes in the last 12 months. The Singapore headquartered organization is no longer branded ONE FC and has introduced single-night tournaments, while moving into new territories such as Taiwan, Dubai, Cambodia and China.
The organization is approaching its fourth anniversary and, whether snatching Bibiano Fernandes from under the nose of the UFC or securing the signature of Ben Askren, it has not lost its capacity to surprise. The most recent revelation was that ONE would be headed to Myanmar next month for an event that will be headlined by the aforementioned Brazilian.
Yangon would not have been high on many people’s lists of potential venues for Asia’s biggest MMA organization, but CEO Victor Cui believes the city, which hosts ONE: Kingdom of Warriors on July 18, fits perfectly into his blueprint for promotional expansion.
“We were invited by the Sports Ministry in Yangon to host the event and it is in line with ONE Championship’s strategy to bring opportunities to countries with a rich history in martial arts and combat sports such as Myanmar. ONE Championship will be the first major world class event in Myanmar and we are delighted to finally get the chance to bring our unique brand of adrenaline-pumping mixed martial arts action, live to fight fans in Myanmar.”
Fernandes will be defending his bantamweight title against recently crowned Cage Warriors FC 135-pound champion Toni Tauru in the main event of next month’s show. It promises to be one of the biggest fights in Asia so far this year, but Cui is already looking ahead to a rematch that he expects to take place in 2015.
“The upcoming Myanmar main event between Bibiano Fernandes and ONE Championship’s new signing Toni Tauru should be interesting. But I think many fans would be excited to see the rematch between Ben Askren and Luis Santos. The no contest in Manila was a disappointing end and everyone would like to see them both back in the cage. It will be explosive this round because both have something to prove. For one, Askren is eager to come back as he was angry about the No Contest, while Santos wants to show that he has what it takes to defeat the world champion.”
Perhaps the most talked about match-up is a potential “super fight” between Fernandes and ONE 155-pound champion Shinya Aoki, and Cui thinks it remains a possibility.
“It would be an exciting fight to watch and Bibiano had said that he would meet Aoki for a superfight. We shall see.”
Earlier this year, Cui’s organization announced that it would no longer be referred to as ONE FC. From now on, the name will simply be ONE Championship. He explained the rationale behind this decision.
“I wanted a name that transcended the language barrier and even if you don’t speak English the chances are you know what ‘one’ means. It means the top, the best, the first, and it’s something everyone can say. So the change was made mostly for linguistic and cultural reasons. The majority of ONE’s audience does not speak English and translating the word ‘fighting’ into dozens of Asian languages has proven cumbersome. ONE is going absolutely mainstream and that means you have to focus on things that people really understand and can relate to right away. They understand what ‘one’ means and they understand ‘championship.’ Everybody understands what a championship means. It means the best, it means the culmination of the top.”
We recently saw ONE head to Guangzhou in South China and the organization has already held an event in the country’s capital of Beijing. It’s a region that is very high on Cui’s agenda and he is pleased with the progress that has been made there.
“ONE Championship’s debut in Guangzhou was a huge success. The Chinese fighters are really exciting to watch as they are so hungry and fight with so much heart and passion. China is definitely a great market for us with so many untapped potential. Can’t wait to be back there again and do even bigger shows.”
ONE tested the single-night tournament format for the first time in Phnom Penh last September and has used it for every single event in China so far. Cui says that ultimately he wants the winners from these competitions to face each other, but that there are still some logistical issues to be ironed out.
“There could be a possibility to have the winners of the tournaments in China fight each other, but we will first have to plan on the best way to make it happen. In fact, we don’t just to do it between Chinese fighters, but to do a tournament between the winners from all the different countries.”
The Guangzhou card was unusual in that it was not available to view live either via online pay-per-view or ONE’s traditional broadcast partners like Fox Sports Asia. It means that the only people who got to see Timofey Nastyukhin knock out Yusuke Kawanago, were the ones inside the Tianhe Gymnasium. Cui says he and his team are facing some technological challenges in China.
“There are still some connection issues in China which make live streaming challenging, but we are definitely working towards improving access. That said, we are providing the content online for fans via Youtube and our other social media platforms.”
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ONE Championship was launched with a pledge to sign all of the top talent in the region and the roster still has a distinctly Asian feel. The list of current titleholders contains fighters from multiple regions with Fernandes and Adriano Moraes representing Brazil, Askren from the United States, and the rest coming from countries in Asia.
Mongolia, Kazakhstan, and Thailand are not traditional MMA strongholds, but each country currently boasts a reigning ONE champion. Cui is excited to see stars emerging from such diverse corners of the region.
“What’s amazing also is the discovery of so many talents from various parts of the world, giving them an opportunity to showcase their skills on an international platform. Now we have a world champion from Mongolia and Kazakhstan and that is fantastic. I am very glad that ONE Championship provides such a platform for sports fans and talents from around the world to unite.”
Cui’s commitment to growing the sport in Asia is long-term. When his organization decides to move into a new territory, it makes an ongoing commitment. ONE has established a firm pattern of holding two shows a year in Singapore, the Philippines, and Malaysia; and the CEO confirmed that more countries were on the list for 2015.
“We are scheduled to return to Cambodia, Dubai, Taiwan, and Indonesia towards the end of the year.”
ONE was formed just four years ago, but next month Myanmar will become the ninth different country to host a live event. No organization in MMA history has ever managed to expand so quickly from its inception. Cui is pleased to be able to play his part in bringing the sport into so many different territories.
“So far I am happy with the progress and will continue to push our limits. We are growing at such a rapid rate, venturing into more and more countries every year. This is huge for us and we are very happy to be able to bring world-class MMA action to combat sport fans in various parts of the globe.”
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