Source: By Peter Rutherford, Reuters
(Reuters) - Mixed martial arts reaches a target market that sponsors and sports broadcasters are desperate to reach and delivering a world-class fight programme is the only way to capitalise on Asia's massive MMA appetite, says ONE Fighting Championship CEO Victor Cui.
The region's newest MMA promotion, which debuts on Sept. 3 at Singapore's Indoor Stadium, has already garnered serious financial backing from a group of offshore investors who recognise the opportunity for growth in Asia, Cui told Reuters on Thursday.
After two events in Singapore, ONE FC would move to major cities around Asia including Shanghai, Seoul and Manila, Cui said, adding that breaking into the major markets in north Asia would require patience and strategy.
"I don't think we'll have any issue moving this event across Asia as broadcasters are already saying how much they want this sport," he told Reuters in an interview. "If we can even get to 10 percent of Asia's 3.8 billion people we will have doubled where the sport is in the region right now."
The United States has seen huge growth in MMA over the past 10 years thanks mainly to the popularity of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, which has moved the sport beyond its brutal beginnings to appeal to a more mainstream audience.
To some, however, it still reeks of unadulterated violence and despite concerted campaigns and charm offensives New York remains one of several states that does not yet sanction MMA.
"This sport is mainstream in the United States. Harley Davidson is a sponsor, Burger King is a sponsor -- if that's not mainstream I don't know what is," Cui said.
Companies such as razor brand Schick were keen to align themselves with ONE FC because of the massive following MMA had in Asia, he added.
"With Schick, we instantly reached the demographic they were trying desperately to get. We said: 'Here's a group of 18 to 45-year-old men you want to talk to. They love this sport, they will follow it and pay attention to your brand'. It's an easy sell."
Prior to setting up ONE FC, Cui was a senior director at Asia's top sports broadcaster ESPN STAR Sports and heavily involved with Martial Combat, another Singapore-based promotion that arrived to much fanfare in 2010 but fizzled due to logistical and planning issues.
Cui said the learning curve had been steep but that like Martial Combat, ONE would feature some of the region's top fighters, many of whom could make the transition to MMA's biggest stage.
With broad shoulders squeezed into slick suits and championship belts slung over their shoulders, several of the fighters set to appear on ONE's inaugural card were on hand to promote the event on Thursday including Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champions Zorobabel Moreira and Leandro Issa.
Former WBA super featherweight champion Yodsanan Sityodtong will also be making his debut in MMA while three members of the Gracie family -- Rolles, Gregor and Igor -- are also scheduled to fight in September.
"For commercial success, the first thing is to deliver a world-class product that broadcasters and advertisers want to be a part of," said Cui.
"We're going to be showcasing some of Asia's top talent but we're still in our infancy. We can't expect to hold one event in China and expect to reach the whole country.
"As for Japan, I see that as an opportunity but also a challenge. Even the UFC are having their own challenges there.
"But the success factor for any brand is to bring together the best fighters, in the best locations with the best locations and the best people behind it. And that's what we're doing."
(Editing by Patrick Johnston; to query or comment on this story email email@example.com)