ONE Championship aims to dominate Asia

Alex Rea 26/04/2016
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Star power: Angela Lee.

For the mixed martial arts (MMA) scene in Asia, there is only ONE. While the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has long reigned as the premier MMA promotion in the west, to the east, ONE Championship has taken that market by storm.

Since its inauguration in 2011, Victor Cui, the CEO and owner of ONE, has moulded a sporting and entertainment powerhouse. It’s a brand, at least in combat sport circles, that is regarded as one of a kind, both inside and outside of the cage.

Take for example their revolutionary weigh-in system. At the start of the year, ONE implemented an outright ban on weight-cutting by dehydration. The move came on the back of the tragic death of their 21-year-old Chinese prospect Yang Jian Bing last December as he was cutting weight.

His passing rocked the MMA world to its core. Bing was not the first fighter to pass away while cutting weight but cases are extremely rare. What isn’t rare, is fighters being hospitilised and not being able to fight because of the problems stemming from cutting weight. It is arguably the biggest problem in the sport and with tragedy on their hands, ONE recognised this.
A group, including company doctors, officials, as well as veterans of the sport who have seen it all, ONE vice presidents Rich Franklin and Matt Hume, came up with a solution built around constant weigh-ins of all contracted fighters to determine their best hydrated weight to fight at. It’s the first of its kind in all of combat sports and it’s one that VP and former UFC middleweight champion Franklin believes will be adopted elsewhere.











“Once this system becomes tested and proven, I would imagine that other organisations will start to look at doing it,” he tells Sport360. “When Matt (Hume) and I, sat down the team to write the new rules we did research on the affects of hydration on the body. Now, as a fighter I would step on the scale 25-30 hours before stepping in the cage to fight but even with that period to re-hydrate you’re not going to re-hydrate to the level you need to.

“One of the things that re-hydrates last in the body is the fluid around your brain, so even a dehydrated athlete that re-hydrates, their brain is more susceptible to concussions than a fighter who is hydrated properly.”

He adds: “It’s not the only thing that makes our product unique, though. We don’t use the 10-point MUST system or judge on a round-by-round basis, the fight is judged in its entirety so the whole system from start to finish is different from everybody else. That’s what makes our product more authentic and more exciting.”

Indeed, ONE is certainly unique but not just in regards to the fighting itself. Very few organisations commit to the entertainment side of the business quite in the way they do. Music concerts, pyrotechnics and extravagant lighting shows populate their events to form a connection with their audience. It’s part of the reason why they’re filling the biggest stadiums in Asia, dominating that market with a 90 per cent share and are attracting blue chip sponsors such as LG, Canon and Panasonic.



Potentially, they are set to reach a new level with the announcement last week of a collaboration with Universal Music Group. In theory, the marriage between the two will see blockbuster concert performances by UMG artists as part of ONE’s live events.

And not just any artists, either. The music giant’s roster currently includes Adele, Rihanna, Maroon 5, Taylor Swift, Justin Bieber, Katy Perry, Lady Gaga, Kanye West and Metallica. With plans to expand into major cities across Asia, including new markets such as Mumbai, Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong and Macau, the collaboration could elevate the promotion onto a level similar to that of the UFC.

Now, MMA doesn’t enjoy the same level of popularity in Asia but ONE is still one of the most prominent and influential players in sport, in the region.

“The way we look at is that we beat to our own drum, we’re only really competing against ourselves,” says PR senior director Loren Mack. “In the western world once you get Las Vegas on board and the Nevada state commission it becomes a domino effect.



“For us, we’re in Singapore and then going to the Philippines it’s not the same analogy. Often times when you’re talking about doing business in Asia, it gets clumped into one thing but essentially what we’ve been able to build is so much more difficult than what happened in the western world leading up to where the UFC is now.

“That’s why when we talk about going into new markets, it’s not like going into three new states, each of these markets they have their culture nuances and different legal regulations and that’s a very tricky course to navigate.”

Despite these challenges, ONE Championship is thriving, using a potential TV audience of one billion viewers – thanks in part to a new deal with the largest TV broadcaster in the Philipines, ABS-CBN – to propel itself alongside the UFC.

“You’ve got UFC in the West, ONE Championship as biggest in the East,” Cui said. “You see the storyline of East versus West play out in almost every industry you can think of, from Apple versus Samsung, YouTube versus Youku, Twitter versus Weibo, Facebook versus Renren.”

It’s apt then that ONE’s next event on May 6 in Singapore is billed as ‘Ascent to Power’ because they are achieving success in regions other promotions that have been around a lot longer just haven’t been able to do. But they still have plenty of room to grow.



Essential to that development is the fighters themselves. There is a mixture of local talent and global imports that marry perfectly.

American talent like welterweight champion Ben Askren, arguably the best fighter outside of the UFC, is meshed with younger Asian fighters such as 19-year-old sensation Angela Lee (video above), who will fight on that May 6 card for the company’s first ever strawweight women’s title.

There is an emphasis on creating local heroes and using those personalities to break into new markets. Dejdamrong Sor Amnuaysirichoke, the current strawweight champ and decorated Muay-Thai fighter, will headline their first ever event in Bangkok on May 27.

He is one of the biggest combat stars in the region and will open up a thrilling new market. And this is a similar strategy ONE hope to emulate in the Middle East. Their first and only forage into the UAE market came in 2014 at ‘Reign of Champions’ but there is a desire to return to the region.

“We’ve just scratched the surface here. When we do come back here, we’ll be entrenched in this market,” adds Franklin. “We want to do at least two shows here a year and I think Dubai is a region that could handle more than that because it is a destination internationally. We see this region as a hub and we see Dubai being a hub for ONE Championship.”


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Conor McGregor.

Featherweight champion McGregor had stunned the mixed martial arts world last week by announcing his “retirement” before later backtracking.

The UFC responded by removing the 27-year-old from the billing for his July 9 fight with Diaz on the UFC 200 card in Las Vegas.

However McGregor insisted in a tweet on Monday that he was back on the card and looking forward to fighting.

But in an interview with the TMZ sports website, White said he was baffled by McGregor’s announcement.

“It’s not true. We haven’t talked to Conor or his manager since the press conference. I don’t know why he would tweet that,” he said.

White added: “All the media keeps asking me that. I feel like the scene in ‘Step Brothers’ when they ask if they can build the bunk beds. I don’t know how many more times I can say the fight is off or how many more press conferences I can have saying the fight is off for people to believe it’s off.”

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UFC star Nate Diaz vows to go on holiday if Conor McGregor doesn’t fight

Alex Rea 24/04/2016
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All or nothing: Nate Diaz.

The divisive Irish superstar was pulled from the fight last week after refusing to travel from his training camp in Iceland to fulfil promotional requirements.

Diaz, who stunned the MMA world last month with his submission victory over the featherweight champ at UFC 196 last month, is still scheduled to fight on the main card. However, he revealed it’s all-or-nothing and if he doesn’t face the Irishman, he’s going to “go on vacation”.

Speaking at the kick-off press conference for UFC 200, he said: “I just came to fight Conor McGregor. I don’t really have too much interest in anybody else.

“I don’t have any interest in fighting at all. But if that’s what we’re going to do, we’re going to do it.

“I didn’t ask for that fight, but he asked for it and he wanted it. If that ain’t gonna happen, I’m going on vacation for real.”

With my boy @frankieedgar after @ufc ?? press conference ..

A photo posted by natediaz209 (@natediaz209) on

UFC president Dana White spent the majority of the press conference defending his decision to pull McGregor from the historic event at the new T-Mobile arena. He went on to explain that he “doesn’t see how it would be fair” for the Dublin native to fight at the event without attending press events.

And with McGregor’s absence, Frankie Edgar, who fights Jose Aldo on the mega card for the interim featherweight strap, called for their rematch to be bumped up for the undisputed title.

“I don’t know what’s going on in his head. I don’t really care, you know?” Edgar said of McGregor. “I think this fight should be for the vacant title right now, to be honest.

“I don’t think he’s ever coming down to 145lbs, if he ever even comes back. So I think me and Aldo should go at it for the real one.”

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