TOKYO—He is an investment banker turned entrepreneur, a martial artist and a showman. At ONE Championship’s inaugural event in Tokyo, held at the swanky Ritz Carlton, the ONE championship founder Chatri Sidyodtong opened the press conference with an 11-minute speech. “We don’t sell fights like any other organization in the world. No, we build heroes,” he said, welcoming the media to “A New Era,” this coming Sunday’s mixed martial arts championship event.
At the question and answer session, he had the audacity to proclaim that the Tokyo event is “the biggest martial arts event in history full stop, not just in Asia but the world. There’s never been a martial arts event where there are four world title fights, 23 world champions in all the major disciplines of martial arts.” And as if that didn’t sound promising enough, he later pledged, “This is just the beginning.“ From four events planned in Japan next year, ONE Championship will be working to increase the number to 12 in a year.
The press conference itself ran for two and a half hours, ending with a photo-shoot of the fighters’ face off, with Chatri, at the center. It was an SRO crowd that filled an entire ballroom of the Ritz Carlton. A giant video wall filled the entire backdrop of the three level stage where each fighter was to take his or her seat. Apart from the Tokyo-based sports media, the crowd was made up of journalists flown in from different parts of Asia by the Singapore based MMA promotion.
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ONE Championship is regarded as the world’s fastest growing global sports media platform. “Just a few years ago, our digital video views were 300,000 now it’s 4 billion, and we are on the way to 40 billion,” said Chatri, hammering his point.
Only the NBA and NFL edge ONE Championship in terms of social media engagement and fan base.
ONE Championship has a billion dollar valuation and as for financial backing, the $275 M raised recently will “skyrocket in the following months,” added Chatri, with announcements to be made soon. One Championship is already backed by Sequoia Capital, the venture capital firm based in Silicon Valley and Temasek Holdings, the Singapore government’s investment company.
Eighty percent of its audience, according to Chatri, are millennials, the most coveted fan base. It also has the largest collection of champions.
At the press conference, the fighters were dressed smartly in their suits, save for Myanmar’s middleweight champion Aung La N Sang, who came dressed in a kimono, endearing himself to Japanese fans. All were calm and civil. It’s hard to believe they will all be slugging it out and drawing blood on Sunday.
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Bantamweight: Panicos Yusuf VS Mohammed Bin Mahmoud
Lightweight: Yoon Chang Min VS Bala Shetty
Featherweight: Anthony Engelen VS Garry Tonon
Atomweight: Mei Yamaguchi VS Kseniya Lachkova
Flyweight: Hiroki Akimoto VS Joseph Lasiri
Flyweight: Rodtang Jitmuangnon VS Hakim Hamech
Flyweight: Kairat Akhmetov VS Reece McLaren
Flyweight: Senzo Ikeda VS Danny Kingad
Catch Weight: Andy Souwer VS Yodsanklai Iwe Fairtex
Lightweight: Eddie Alvarez VS Timofey Nastyukhin
Flyweight: Yuya Wakamatsu VS Demetrious Johnson
Bantamweight World Championship: Kevin Belingon VS Bibiano Fernandes
Middleweight World Championship: Aung La N Sang VS Ken Hasegawa
Strawweight World Championship: Xiong Jing Nan VS Angela Lee
Lightweight World Championship: Eduard Folayang VS Shinya Aoki
Chatri talks of his fighters as if he were describing Marvel’s super heroes, “Our world champions exemplify the very best of humanity. We build heroes and provide the world with hope, strength and inspiration. I want the world to see the true beauty of martial arts. I want children to have role models and heroes. This is a new era where good will triumph over evil. Where our heroes will be celebrated. We will inspire nations to celebrate values and change the world.”
It takes balls to bring his MMA promotion to the country with thousands of years of rich martial arts history, but if Sunday’s mega event lives up to the hype, Chatri Sidyodtong may well be on his way to conquering the world.
Photographs courtesy of One Championship