MMA promoter ONE Championship targets rapid China expansion

BANGKOK – ONE Championship, the leading mixed martial arts promoter in Asia, plans on more than doubling its number of events in China next year as it uses a fresh injection of funds to target major expansion in the region.

Singapore’s sovereign investment fund Temasek, through its subsidiary Heliconia, announced a major investment in ONE Championship earlier this month, with the MMA promoter putting the valuation at a high eight-figure sum.

At the core of the business plan is expansion in China, where company founder Chatri Sityodtong anticipates staging 12 events in next year’s schedule, compared with five in 2015.

Since the announcement of the Singapore investment, ONE has been opening offices in Beijing and Shanghai and started the search for a president of China operations.

“It’s not so much the funds, although of course that’s helpful to accelerate the business,” Chatri said of the Temasek investment. “It’s much more that they have a very wide ecosystem of investments across Asia, and we can tap into that.

“We will be ramping it up in China. One Championship really is a global platform to showcase the various martial arts of all countries, and kung fu is huge in China but there has never been the right platform to show that.”

Chatri is mindful of getting the foundations laid properly.

“Every country has its own nuances, and has its own opportunities and challenges,” Chatri said. “A billion people is exciting, and a huge market, but at the same time we have to have relationships with government, with the business community, with the martial arts community, to make it work.”

This year, ONE Championship has events scheduled in Changsha, Hefei, Tianjin and Chengdu, and in previous years also had promotions in Guangzhou and Beijing.

If the 12 events per year plan is to be realized, ONE will need at least six host cities to fit in with its preferred model of a maximum of two events per city per year.

“The good balance for us is coming into a major city every six months,” Chatri said. “That’s enough time to give people the opportunity to watch it on television and then to go to watch it live in their home city.”