ONE's on top of the MMA world

ONE's on top of the MMA world
Singaporean fighter Angela Lee (in black) defeating Natalie Gonzalez Hill.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

It's not difficult to see why Victor Cui is regarded as the most powerful person in the world of Asian mixed martial arts (MMA).

The Canada-born entrepreneur is the founder and chief executive officer of ONE Championship, the largest sports media property in Asia with a global broadcast to over a billion homes in 75 countries.

The Singapore-headquartered organisation may still be in its infancy, having only celebrated its fourth birthday this past July, but the company is wasting no time in spreading its wings across the region and beyond.

Mr Cui has taken ONE and his growing stable of fighters, including the welterweight world champion Ben Askren, to battle in packed arenas in China, Taiwan, Myanmar and the United Arab Emirates.

On Nov 13, more than 8,000 people packed the Singapore Indoor Stadium for ONE's Pride of Lions event to watch nine enthralling matches within the circular cage.

That night, the noisy crowd went wild as they witnessed the home favourite Angela Lee use an amazing twister submission move to defeat Australian Natalie Gonzalez Hills in the first round.

There are still two more big shows for the group this year - in Phnom Penh, Cambodia on Saturday night and in the Philippine capital of Manila next Friday.

As the ONE juggernaut pounds its way to the top of Asian MMA, Mr Cui and his senior management are also busy bringing new sponsors on board, including the likes of Casio and Chinese consumer electronics company Haier.

The Business Times Weekend spoke to Mr Cui after the recent event in Singapore to find out more about ONE's meteoric rise to the top as he gave his take on the lucrative sports sponsorship scene in Asia today.

BT: How would you describe the sports sponsorship market in Asia at the moment, and specifically in Singapore?

Victor Cui (VC): Sports sponsorship is definitely growing as many brands are now looking into sponsoring sports organisations and athletes to help boost their reach and market their brands.

Sports, especially MMA which is enjoying a surge in the past few years, is reaching new heights of popularity.

Using athletes and sports organisations bring better value to companies in terms of image as well because sports promotes healthy living and athletes are usually associated with values such as integrity, discipline, and sportsmanship.

Brands want to be associated with that. MMA, for example is the fastest growing sport in the world and our events are packed with fans who all become potential clients for brands.

Through our shows, our partners get to reach out to the masses. Now we have brands such as LG, Casio, Haier and Tune Talk on board as our partners.

BT: I read in a recent interview with that ONE even has to turn down sponsors at the moment. Why is the demand to be associated with Asian MMA so strong? What is the main attraction for so many of these blue-chip companies?

VC: ONE has consistently filled out stadiums across Asia and this means that there is a growing fan base for MMA.

All our fans are potential customers for these companies and that's why so many of them want to get on board. But of course, there must be harmony on both sides. We look for sponsors who embody the same values that we as a company do, and as our mixed martial arts fighters do.

BT: How did ONE and Haier come together?

VC: Haier's chief executive officer Yoshiaki Ito is a very revolutionary business leader who changed the white-goods and home appliances industry.

His vision made him embark on a creative plan to utilise the sport of MMA, leveraging the excitement of the sport for building their brands and all that encompasses it, to boost Haier's brand awareness and market presence, thereby improving the business.

BT: How do all these major corporate deals impact and benefit the fighters?

VC: Fighters get sponsors and winnings from these corporate sponsors. This helps boost their name and image in the public as well.

You can say that both brands grow simultaneously.

Being ambassadors to these products and services, they also get paid and these can open up other opportunities for them too.

BT: You've entered the Chinese market already and held a number of successful events in different cities. What's it like to run MMA events in Asia's largest economy?

VC: We've had a great experience working with Wujie, our partner in China. It is a two-year deal and we are excited to bring the best MMA fights to China, which is a huge market with lots of potential for us.

We've also discovered a lot of hungry talents in China, and ONE has provided them with that platform to showcase themselves on an international scale and compete against other world-class fighters.

This article was first published on Dec 5, 2015.
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