Mixed martial arts' standard-bearer for Asian values

MMA fighter Angela Lee will be making the first title defence of her atomweight belt against Chinese Taipei's Jenny Huang on March 11 in Bangkok.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Ask One Championship chief executive officer Victor Cui how his mixed martial arts (MMA) organisation maintains its superiority in Asia over rivals Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).

His answer is simple: Just look at the fighters' post-match conduct.

Last month, after beating Ronda Rousey, UFC bantamweight champion Amanda Nunes infamously said: "F*** Ronda Rousey. Now she is going to retire and go do movies."

In contrast, Cui pointed to how Mei Yamaguchi responded after losing to Angela Lee in the atomweight title bout last May as the way One Championships sets itself apart.

"First thing they do after going to war with each other over five rounds - they hug. Mei walked up to Angela and said, 'You're going to be a great champion'," said Cui in a conference call with local and international media.

"Respect, loyalty, humility and dedication - these are values Asian fans want to see in their heroes.

"In the west, the sport is about blood, guts, machismo and disrespecting your opponent. In Asia, we are completely opposite.

"(That's why) people continue to participate in martial arts, they enrol their children in martial arts, because they understand these are values they want their children to have."

In the hour-long call, Cui also called 2016 "a breakout year" for One Championship.

Inaugural fights were held in Thailand and Macau, while new offices were opened in Beijing and Shanghai as the Singapore-based organisation seeks to establish itself in China, the world's most populous nation.

The biggest knockout punch, though, was secured out of the ring as Heliconia Capital Management, a wholly owned subsidiary of Temasek Holdings, invested an eight-figure sum in the company.

Cui said that One Championship should probably hit the US$1 billion (S$1.4 billion) valuation in the next 18 months, and added: "We are focused on building a world class management team, a world class roster... and we will continue to focus on our core markets here in Asia."

Crucial to the fight company's growth is its stable of popular fighters, including atomweight champion Lee, who has been nominated for Female Fighter of the Year at the World MMA awards for the second year running.

The awards ceremony is on March 2, days before her first title defence against Chinese Taipei's Jenny Huang on March 11.

Lee, 20, is focused on her bout against Huang, which will be held at the Impact Arena in Bangkok.

She has good reason to. Both fighters are undefeated in their professional careers.

Lee, skilled in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, taekwondo and wrestling, has won all six of her fights so far while Huang, who has a strong base in wushu, is unbeaten in her five bouts.

Lee said: "Obviously any champion's first title defence is crucial. I'm looking to make a statement with the fight.

"Jenny has earned her title shot. I'm taking her very seriously but this is my time to show the world who I am as a fighter and solidify myself as a champion."

Huang said: "I'm very honoured that One Championship has given me this title fight. It's always been my goal to be a champion and I will get it.

"I will be including some wushu elements in this fight. It's something rare in MMA and I want to showcase this to the fans."

siangyee@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on Jan 18, 2017.
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