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Chatri Sityodtong fields questions from the media at the ONE on Prime Video 4 pre-fight press conference in Singapore. Photos: ONE Championship.

Chatri Sityodtong says ONE Championship will return to Japan in 2023, ‘won’t rest’ until company is ‘No 1 in the US’

  • Saturday double header in Singapore was originally slated for Tokyo, but plan deferred because of lingering pandemic restrictions in Japan
  • CEO Chatri says martial arts promotion will return to country ‘100 per cent next year’ and also promises ‘at a minimum a couple’ events in US

ONE Championship will not be returning to Japan this year, but CEO Chatri Sityodtong says the country is “100 per cent” in the company’s plans for 2023.

The martial arts promotion is back with another double-header this weekend in Singapore, with the ONE on Prime Video 4 event slated for Saturday morning, and ONE 163 scheduled for later that night.

The evening event is loaded with top Japanese combat sports talent – clear evidence of the fact that the two events were originally planned for Tokyo.

“We had to move our events from Tokyo to Singapore, just because, at the time when we went to go fly to Japan – this was several weeks ago – the country was still shut down, so we didn’t feel comfortable we could pull it off to our standard,” Chatri told the Post at Wednesday’s ONE on Prime Video 4 pre-fight press conference.

ONE promoted two blockbuster events in Tokyo in 2019, but had its momentum in the market slowed by the pandemic. With Japan recently reopening its borders to international travellers, it looked as though the promotion would pick up where it left off this year, but that plan has been deferred to the new year.

ONE: Angela Lee shifts focus from Xiong to title defences

“One hundred per cent next year,” Chatri said.

“I just looked at the calendar for 2023,” he added. “Japan is on there, and a bunch of other new countries, and some expected countries. We’ll be announcing our new 2023 schedule in the coming weeks.”

Japan’s Hiroki Akimoto celebrates a thrilling bantamweight kick-boxing title win over Capitan Petchyindee at ONE X in Singapore in March, 2022.

Japan is an important market for ONE, but the promotion’s top focus is expanding into the United States, where it has yet to promote an event.

Chatri is adamant that will change in 2023.

“We’ll be having our first couple of US events – at a minimum a couple,” he said. “I really want [US fans] to understand and what they’ve been missing.”

ONE recently signed a five-year broadcast deal with Amazon’s Prime Video streaming service – a crucial part of its push into the US market. The company has already aired three events on the platform. Chatri says those events have exceeded expectations, and is optimistic that trend will continue ahead of ONE’s fourth event on Prime this Saturday.

ONE: Angela Lee shifts focus from Xiong to title defences

“I recently spoke at the World Congress of Sports, which is the largest sports business conference in America, and Marie Donoghue, the global head of sports for Amazon, came out and said the partnership has blown away her numbers,” he said.

“I think it’s just the very beginning. I have much bigger ambitions in terms of our numbers, in terms of our viewership. It’s just the beginning.”

ONE will face stiff competition in the US market, with local promotions like the UFC and Bellator having long ago established footholds in the country. Yet Chatri is confident his company can surpass both.

Kiamrian Abbasov (left) and Christian Lee pose ahead of their welterweight title fight, which headlines the ONE on Prime Video 4 event.

“When we entered China, in earnest, five years ago, we were nowhere on the map. We’re now the biggest martial arts organisation in China in terms of viewership numbers,” he claimed. “I foresee that happening again. Until we’re No 1 in the US, I won’t rest, my team won’t rest, and our athletes won’t rest.”

Saturday morning’s ONE on Prime Video 4 will be topped by a welterweight title fight, as champ Kiamrian Abbasov defends his belt against lightweight king Christian Lee.

Co-headlining honours will go to a flyweight Muay Thai title fight, with the division’s long-reigning champion Rodtang Jitmuangnon defending his belt against Joseph Lasiri, who holds the title one division south at strawweight.

ONE 163 will be headlined by a bantamweight kickboxing title fight, as Japanese champion Hiroki Akimoto defends his title against Petchtanong Petchfergus of Thailand.

Itsuki Hirata is announced as the winner of her atomweight with Lin Heqin.

Japanese MMA veterans Yushin Okami and Shinya Aoki will also be back in action on the card, taking on Aung La N Sang at middleweight and Saygid Izagakhmaev at lightweight respectively.

So too will popular Japanese atomweight MMA contender Itsuki Hirata, who will look to earn a title shot with an upset win over streaking South Korean star Ham Seo-hee.

The event will air on Abema as a pay-per-view in Japan.