Singapore-based ONE Championship (ONE) looks set to achieve a US$1 billion (S$1.35 billion) valuation in the coming months, if predictions by Chairman Chatri Sityodtong are correct.
The company, which is also billed as the largest sports media property in the history of Asia, has been making waves in the world of sports after crowning Singapore's 19-year-old Angela Lee as their first female champion earlier this year, but now, the business aspect has taken precedence with a rumoured IPO looming in the coming years.
For a company that's still less than five years old, achieving a US$1 billion valuation would put ONE in rarified territory as one of the only startups in Singapore's history to achieve that milestone. After all, the global leader for the sport of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA), Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) in the US, has a 20-year headstart on ONE and were recently rumoured to have been sold at a valuation of US$4.2 billion.
AsiaOne spoke to Sityodtong recently to understand how and why the young Asian promotion looks set to make another mark in history.
"I have almost a decade of investment experience on Wall Street as a hedge fund manager. I have bought and sold many companies all over the world. ONE Championship will cross the US$1 billion valuation mark in the next 12-18 months," stated Sityodtong confidently.
The reason for Sityodtong's confidence in his company's success could be more than just optimism on the serial entrepreneur's part. ONE Championship has come a long way since it was first formed in 2011, growing at an astounding rate that now sees its events across Asia being broadcast to over 1 billion households in 118 countries around the world.
"If you look at the DNA of UFC vs the DNA of ONE, they are totally different. It is West vs East. UFC showcases violence and bravado and those elements strike an excellent chord with Western fight fans. ONE focuses on the Asian values of martial arts such as integrity, humility, courage, discipline, and honour for example. And we focus on inspirational human stories of triumph over adversity.
"ONE Championship is the number one player in Asia with over 90 per cent market share, and yet it's still growing at triple digit percentage rates," said Sityodtong.
"Asia has 4.1 billion people. The market opportunity is massive. Since day one, our vision has always been to create Asia's first multi-billion dollar sports media property. We are edging closer and closer to that reality every day."
To achieve the company's lofty goals, Sityodtong revealed that ONE had a carefully crafted plan in place to reach Asia's myriad of cultures and languages. After all, Asia is home to over half of the world's population, thus creating both a lucrative opportunity and a daunting obstacle to produce an event that would appeal universally to its billions of people.
However, it's something that ONE might be well staffed to do, since they've spent the past year hiring talent from some of the largest organisations in the world. Just a month ago, ONE announced key hires such as Pithambar Gona, a new CFO who was previously a Managing Director at financial powerhouse Blackstone, and Kevin Matas, a Head of Marketing who was formerly from Red Bull.
"We do careful analysis of each country. From culture, history, religion, and more, every country in Asia is different. Our goal is to be ubiquitous across Asia," said Sityodtong.
"Our broadcast will be live in all the major languages of Asia at the local level. We are already moving in that direction. Our aim is to have local relevance and global appeal. We want national heroes who compete on the global stage so that every country has someone to rally behind."
Sityodtong also believes ONE's success will have far-reaching benefits for Asia as a whole too should their goals be achieved.
"A rising tide lifts all boats. ONE Championship has been leading the way in Asia for not just the sport of MMA, but for all sports," said Sityodtong.
"We are already the largest sports media property in Asia's history. It is another huge milestone that will ignite MMA into mainstream status and make it the biggest sport in Asia. Of course, it will be beneficial for everyone involved in Asian MMA. The combination of media and capital is a powerful force."
Despite ONE's rapid rise and success, Sityodtong is candid about how the company compares now to his projections when ONE was first started. He acknowledges that the young company is ahead of his initial expectations in many ways, being at the strongest position in its history in terms of brand, market share, and financial strength. However, it has still fallen short in some areas.
"Overall, I am not satisfied. There is still a lot of work to be done," said Sityodtong.
"My vision is for ONE to be deeply woven into the fabric of Asian society and daily life. We will have 52 events a year across all of the major cities in Asia with a live global broadcast around the world. We want everyone to be able to enjoy a big show every weekend.
"The sky is the limit. I believe that we will surpass a broadcast reach of 2 billion homes in the coming 12-18 months. A rockstar head of media rights just joined ONE. We are going to see significant traction in this area in the coming years."