With the continuous growth of mixed martial arts (MMA) in the Philippines, ONE Championship head honcho Chatri Sityodtong expects a bright future for the local combat scene. We have become a hotbed of the sport since its formal introduction in 2002 with the debut of Universal Reality Combat Championship.
MMA’s popularity here paved way for numerous amateur leagues: Hitman MMA and Cage Gladiator’s Fight Night series, East Side Fighting Challenge, Forza Underground, Domination Fight League. and Philippine Encuentro Championship. These provided aspiring athletes a platform to showcase their skills and be scouted by matchmakers from well-established promotions.
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ONE Championship has been a regular staple in the Philippine sports calendar since its first venture in our country's shores in 2012. It has held 18 events in the last seven years at locations such as Araneta Coliseum in Quezon City and the Mall Of Asia Arena.
Sityodtong admitted that the Philippines is one of ONE's primary destinations in its yearly multinational itinerary. "The fans in the country are just so passionate about martial arts in general,” he says. Although the country is hooked with sports like basketball, boxing, and volleyball, Sityodtong saw its potential as a good MMA market. “Filipinos understand martial arts because way before mixed martial arts became popular here, the country has its own martial art in the form of Kali. Plus, the people here know and appreciate boxing because of Manny Pacquiao,” he explains.
When the Singapore-based promotion struck a lucrative broadcasting deal with ABS-CBN in 2016, it paved the way for the Asian brand of MMA to be viewed by millions of Filipinos on free television. “I believe that it can become mainstream where every single Filipino is enthralled with what ONE Championship has to offer,” Sityodtong shares.
At the moment, the Philippines holds the record of most championship wins in the eight-year history of the promotion. In addition, Team Lakay—the most popular MMA group in the country—is the stable with the most victories in world title contests under the ONE Championship banner.
Currently, among the organization’s current roster of champions, Brandon Vera and Joshua Pacio are the only Filipinos with belts around their waists. Meanwhile, Kevin Belingon has the chance to regain the bantamweight title when he faces Brazilian arch-nemesis Bibiano Fernandes for the fourth time on October 13 in Tokyo. “A lot of Filipino athletes have become household names," Sityodtong says. "They are continuously expanding their careers into new heights, being an inspiration and touching lives. There are tons of examples and success stories. That has been one of the most fulfilling things working in the Philippines."
The Thai-Japanese promoter says they are determined to produce and develop young talents from the grassroots level. Through a partnership with Globe, the organization is set to produce ONE Hero Series Philippines.
Similar to Rich Franklin’s ONE Warrior Series, ONE Hero Series Philippines will be a reality television show, searching for top prospects all over the archipelago. It culminates in a tournament, with the winner taking home a $100,000 contract.
“The Philippines is a market that I plan to invest heavily in the next three to five years. I just love the Filipino athletes and fans. When we say we cultivate the sport, it's not just words. We are out there doing the work,” Sityodtong assures.
Aside from helping to grow the number of future Filipino superstars, Sityodtong bares plans of staging events outside Metro Manila. One of its target sites is Cebu, which is no stranger to combat sports spectacles as it has hosted various boxing events in the past.
Meanwhile, fans from Baguio are clamoring for a ONE Championship show to be held there as it is the home base of Team Lakay. “We are open to all options definitely. I don’t want to make any announcement or prediction right now, but there is a possibility,” Sityodtong clarifies.