Since launching in 2011 ONE Championship has put on 42 events in ten different countries. The organization has signed up some of the best fighters in the world including Ben Askren, Shinya Aoki, Bibiano Fernandes, Yoshitaka Naito and Angela Lee and has secured sponsorship and broadcast deals that are unprecedented in Asian MMA.
The organization’s founder and chairman is Chatri Sityodtong, a multimillionaire entrepreneur who used to manage billion dollar hedge funds on Wall Street. He knows a thing or two about how to value a company and believes ONE Championship is on track to reach the billion dollar mark soon,
“Based on my 10 years of experience on Wall Street, I believe that ONE Championship is on track to cross the US$1 billion valuation mark in the next 12-18 months. We are growing at triple digit growth rates and the market opportunity is massive in Asia. There are 4.1 billion people who live here and our growth opportunities are limitless.”
There is intense speculation surrounding a potential UFC buyout with the general consensus being that the company is worth $4-5 billion. In this context it doesn’t seem unreasonable to suggest that Asia’s biggest MMA organization could soon be worth a billion dollars, particularly as ONE Championship is continuing to expand into new territories.
Last month ONE Championship put on an event in Bangkok for the first time. It was an emotional moment for Chatri who was raised in Thailand, but left the country as an adult,
“I am full of gratitude for all of the love and support I received from all the fans in Thailand. It meant a lot to me on a personal level because I left Thailand many years ago in shame and poverty when my family went bankrupt and homeless. I never thought that I would ever return; so it was like a dream to see the entire country of Thailand rally behind ONE Championship.”
He confirmed that ONE Championship would be returning to Bangkok in December and says several new destinations are on the agenda,
“Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong, Macau, Vietnam and a few other new countries are on the map in the coming years. Equally important is that we will be expanding our footprint in China this year and beyond.”
ONE Championship has put on seven events in seven different countries so far this year, but Chatri has an even more ambitious schedule in mind. Eventually he hopes the promotion will expand to the point where it is doing shows every single weekend,
“Our plan over the next 3-5 years is to get to a 52 event weekly schedule of live events across Asia with a live broadcast to 2 billion homes. Our vision is to become a part of everyday life for everyone in Asia. I envision a world where everyone in Asia will tune into our events every weekend. There is no reason why it should not happen because Asia has always been the home of martial arts.”
Chatri has been involved in ONE Championship since its inception, but until recently he has remained behind the scenes. Spearheading the organization’s early growth was former ESPN Star Sports executive Victor Cui and the two men are now working hand in hand to take the company to the next level,
“Victor and I split up responsibilities based on our areas of expertise and the synergies are perfect. He comes from a sports media background with deep experience in throwing world-class events. I am an entrepreneur with significant knowledge in launching, building, investing, and growing companies, but I also happen come from a martial arts background,” Chatri explained.
As well as signing sought after fighters like Askren, Fernandes and Aoki, the promotion has also put together a highly experienced management team. It’s something most MMA organizations overlook, but Chatri feels ONE Championship now has some of the best people in the industry,
“We are also very blessed to have Asia’s strongest leadership team for sports media. Our head of marketing who just joined us last month ran online marketing for Redbull, our CFO was a Managing Director at Blackstone, our head of media rights comes from MP and Silva and our Executive Producer has worked with the NFL, NBA and Strikeforce.”
There are a couple of familiar faces from the world of MMA involved too with former UFC middleweight champion Rich Franklin and legendary coach Matt Hume both employed as vice presidents. Chatri believes he has assembled what amounts to a corporate dream team,
“If you add up the collective experience of our entire leadership team, it comprises of blue chip global brands in sports media with decades of domain expertise in every area. That being said, ONE Championship’s success has really been a massive team effort from top to bottom. We have the greatest team in sports in Asia, not just MMA.”
According to Chatri this leadership team of experts has worked together to produce some strong financial performance,
“We have been registering triple digit percentage annual growth rates in revenues since we started five years ago. Compared to most companies around the world in any industry, ONE Championship is doing very well. However we are still far from where I would like us to be.”
As global awareness of what ONE Championship is doing has increased so has the mainstream media exposure. The promotion has been featured in publications all over the world and Chatri thinks this proves that the explosion of interest in Asian MMA has reverberated far beyond the region,
“MMA is on the verge of mainstream status in Asia. Every major mainstream media in every major country covers ONE Championship and our events like CNN, Forbes, CNBC, Bloomberg and the New York Times. It is amazing to see the global reception for ONE Championship and I am full of gratitude for it.”
Next on the agenda for ONE Championship is an Initial Public Offering (IPO), which Chatri expects to happen within the next thrww years. Asia has a long and distinguished tradition of martial arts and he believes that tapping into this lucrative market will help his promotion make corporate history,
“Asia has been the home of martial arts for the last 5,000 years. There is a homegrown martial art in almost every country in Asia and ONE Championship is on track to become Asia’s first multibillion sports media property in history.”