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One Championship

One Championship rolls out big guns as it battles with UFC for dominance in MMA-mad Asian market

UFC rival announces stellar card for upcoming Singapore date as UFC embarks on highly-anticipated excursion into Asia

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 May, 2017, 12:55pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 May, 2017, 4:11pm

One Championship is bringing the heat with its Dynasty of Heroes card in Singapore in two weeks’ time, with world champions Angela Lee and Ben Askren headlining a card brimming with talent from the roster of Asia’s leading mixed martial arts crew.

Consider the event as the first salvo fired in 2017 as One looks to deal with the return to the region of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), while working to further its own reach across Asia.

And even bigger things are on the horizon, said One Championship’s chairman and founder Chatri Sityodtong this week.

“We’re firing on all pistons,” said Sityodtong.

Sityodtong was talking at the end of a week that has seen the Las Vegas-based UFC unveil two Chinese fighters in Li Jingliang and Wang Guan before the organisation’s own return to Singapore, scheduled for June 17. It was a canny move both in terms of the publicity for that event and in terms of UFC’s future moves out this way.

Sityodtong readily welcomes the noise being generated in terms of the greater good for the sport in general, and then marks the Singapore-based organisation’s territory.

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“I’d love to see One Championship world champions against UFC world champions,” said Sityodtong. “I actively challenge that match-up and I hope UFC accepts. They keep saying they have the best fighters in the world, so let’s prove it. But we have no concerns about the UFC in terms of popularity. Our figures show we are well ahead on that score. We’re all about local heroes on the global stage. Human beings are tribal, and that’s the magic formula we have.”

The figures released by One this week seem to support such claims. The organisation suggests, for example, that hits on their social media videos have risen from 312,000 to more than 300 million in the space of just three years and that their last event in the Philippines in April (headlined by local hero Eduard Folayang’s win over Malaysia’s Ev Ting) grabbed a 26 per cent share of the domestic TV audience. One compares that to the biggest event the UFC hosted in 2016 – Conor McGregor’s win over Eddie Alvarez – and the six to seven per cent audience share it grabbed in Asia to suggest where regional allegiances currently rest.

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“TV ratings have exploded,” said Sityodtong. “The number of broadcast hours per country per year has exploded. The footprint has doubled from 60 countries to 118. It’s skyrocketing and I predict that will continue. It’s still early in the game. We’ve barely scratched the surface and that’s the beautiful thing. All the numbers are exploding and giving the business a serious, serious uplift.”

Proof of that will no doubt play out over the coming month, and over the years ahead, but for the moment MMA fans can fix their attention on the return to the cage of the 20-year-old Lee, the undisputed standard bearer for the sport in Asia at present.

Lee takes her 7-0 record – and her world atomweight title – into a match up with 24-year-old Brazilian Istela Nunes (6-0), a two-time muay thai world champion. It’ll be Lee’s second fight of the year and, given footage available that highlights Nunes’ aggression, a serious test for the young star who showed in her first title defence back in March that she is working to redefine her fight game, as much as her physique.

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Lee battered Taiwanese challenger Jenny Huang in Bangkok but will face a different prospect given Nunes’ stand-and-deliver style.

“A world champion versus a two-time muay thai world champion – this fight has all the making of one with massive promises fireworks and just pure drama,” said Sityodtong. “I think with my heart this fight will end in a KO or a submission, in the first or second round.”