Chatri Sityodtong, ONE Championship’s Founder, Chairman, and CEO, has spent the past six years building a global martial arts giant from scratch, and now the organization is experiencing breakout levels of success in Asia.
The secret, Sityodtong says, is ONE’s ability to differentiate itself from the competition, particularly the UFC, by understanding the subtle nuances of the Asian market, and by offering a product that appeals to its people.
“The UFC is a company that focuses on fighting as a sport,” analyzes Sityodtong. “ONE Championship is a company that embraces martial arts, and all its positive impact and values. Combat is just the competitive aspect of it.
“It is no secret that Asians are the best in the world at martial arts. However, we are still rather selective when it comes to the athletes on our roster – they need to be able to connect with the audience. That is why we only look at those with both the skills and character that resonate.”
Building local martial arts heroes – ONE Championship’s main ethos – is all about finding breakout Asian athletes who personify traditional martial arts values such as humility, courage, discipline, and honor.
Superstars the likes of ONE World Champions Angela Lee of Singapore and Eduard Folayang of the Philippines are prime examples. Both are massive stars in their home countries, because they bond with fans at a grassroots level. They are everyday people who achieved greatness through martial arts.
This differs in ideology and approach to the UFC, ONE’s western counterpart based in the United States.
Although the UFC has a presence in Asia, having held a handful of shows over the years, Sityodtong believes they haven’t been as successful in the region, simply because their product is vastly different and they place an emphasis on stars who are larger than life.
“The UFC’s product simply doesn’t resonate in Asia,” Sityodtong added. “Our DNA is completely different from the UFC’s. Asian heroes are very different from Western heroes. In Asia we really respect an amazing martial artist like Eduard Folayang.
“He’s a fearsome martial artist and incredibly skilled. He rose up through extreme poverty, losing five siblings to common illnesses because his family couldn’t afford medical care, and rose to prominence through martial arts. Today, he is a World Champion adored throughout the Philippines.
“However, what’s most important is that he has remained kind, humble, and genuine. That’s someone that we, as Asians, truly support and admire. In the Western world, they favor cocky and arrogant guys, such as Conor McGregor or Jon Jones.”
Jon Jones is the former UFC Light Heavyweight Champion. Once recognized as the best fighter in the world pound-for-pound, Jones has had multiple run-ins with the law due to drugs, and has repeatedly been kept on the sidelines through suspension.
Two-division UFC Champion Conor McGregor, on the other hand, is the UFC’s biggest star. Over the years, he has come to be as known for his accomplishments in the octagon, as he is for his brash arrogance and antics outside of it.
Sityodtong believes that despite their star power, there is no guarantee that their fights would do well in Asia.
The Thai entrepreneur has good reason to think this way. Headlined by ONE Lightweight World Champion Folayang, Manila’s ONE: KINGS OF DESTINY in April scored peak ratings share of 26 per cent, which Sityodtong compares to the 6 per cent registered by the UFC’s biggest show, which featured McGregor.
“They’re just products of a different culture. I’m not saying if it is good or bad,” reasoned Sityodtong. “It’s just what resonates well with people in the region, and I know for a fact that our role model athletes are more popular when it comes to an Asian audience.”