It has been a remarkable start to 2019 for ONE Championship.
The world’s largest martial arts organization held a plethora of thrilling events, kicked off a pair of exciting World Grands Prix, and set record viewership numbers for its debut show in Tokyo, Japan.
Although it marked the beginning of a new era for martial arts globally, there are even greater things to look forward to in the coming months.
In this exclusive interview, ONE Championship Chairman and CEO Chatri Sityodtong talked about the promotion’s monumental first quarter, his year-end broadcast viewership goals, and his expectations for the ONE Flyweight World Grand Prix.
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Posted by ONE Championship on Sunday, April 28, 2019
ONE Championship: Earlier this month, the company held its second annual ONE Elite Retreat. What is the purpose behind this retreat?
Chatri Sityodtong: The purpose behind the ONE Elite Retreat is to celebrate and honor our biggest heroes at ONE Championship, and also to align everyone with the values and the mission of the company, as well as the company’s execution plan.
We view our athletes as partners in each other’s success, and that is a deep, underlying value that is part of ONE Championship. The DNA of ONE Championship is a win-win philosophy with everyone we work with — whether it’s our teammates, external vendors, broadcasters, athletes, or governments. We have an approach of a win-win philosophy, and we are always trying to figure out how we can make our partners more successful by using our platform.
The ONE Elite Retreat is an extension of that philosophy, and I think it is also good for all of our athletes to get together. They are hard competitors inside the Circle, but they take time once a year to get together and know each other as people, and inspire each other.
There are three building blocks to the ONE Elite Retreat. One is honor and celebrate our heroes, and let them have almost like a year-end party. The second is to empower them with new skills and new knowledge. Whether it’s social media, marketing, branding, or sponsorship, we want to empower them to be able to have success outside of the arena. And the third is to align all of our athletes behind the company’s values, vision, and mission.
ONE: Was there anything that surprised you about the athletes during the ONE Elite Retreat?
CS: I’ve been interacting with all our athletes on a one-on-one basis for a while now, so it was no surprise to me to see how amazing they are as human beings outside the arena.
I think the athletes were more surprised than we were. I’m sure for some of the other athletes who never met each other before, they were surprised at how nice, or how funny, or how kind [they were]. It was clear all of us shared the same values as martial artists — that was one thing that was very clear over the course of three days.
We share the same values, we all want to celebrate Asia’s greatest cultural treasure, and we all want to honor martial arts and the value of martial arts. That was very clear to me.
ONE: The company’s inaugural Japan event, ONE: A NEW ERA, did 41.9 million viewers, which is huge. What were your thoughts on the show, and did it meet your expectations?
CS: I thought the event was a 10 out of 10 in terms of the actual fights, the entertainment value, and the show production. We really nailed it.
I admit, I was a little disappointed we didn’t hit our initial 50 million viewers target that we set for ourselves when we decided to do the event a few months prior. But when I think of 41.9 million in the grand scheme of things, and where we were in 2015 just four and a half years ago, we were looking at 700,000 viewers per event.
Obviously, 41.9 million viewers per event is a record high for ONE Championship — actually, I believe it’s a record high for any martial arts combat promotion, globally, in terms of viewership numbers. So obviously, I am very thrilled about that.
ONE: There were so many great performances, but what did you think about Demetrious Johnson’s ONE Championship debut at ONE: A NEW ERA?
CS: I was super proud of DJ. First of all, I really love him — both as a martial artist and a human being. Not only does he really exemplify the best of martial arts, but also the best of humanity. He is a family man. He has all the values of a martial artist — he has integrity, humility, honor, respect, courage, discipline, and compassion, and he faced a very tough first round.
I actually thought DJ lost the first round, and he faced adversity. I think it was a little bit of jitters. But DJ is a true World Champion, and a true World Champion, for me, is someone who can win under any circumstance.
Obviously, this was the first time DJ was fighting abroad and the first time he was fighting on the biggest stage of martial arts in the world. There were so many firsts for DJ, and after he got the first-round jitters done with, he was able to find an opening and capitalize on a mistake his opponent made.
ONE: He meets Tatsumitsu Wada in the semifinals of the ONE Flyweight World Grand Prix, and on the other side of the bracket, Kairat Akhmetov meets Danny Kingad. Do you think DJ is still the favorite to win the tournament?
CS: Yes, I do believe DJ is the favorite, but I do believe the next two fights for DJ will be very tough. I don’t think they are a walk in the park. I think the dark horse favorite right now is Danny Kingad.
ONE: Why do you think Danny is the dark horse?
CS: He is an incredible athlete, super powerful, super explosive, and has big KO power. But also, he has improved so much. In Japan, I was just blown away by the level of his ground game, his sweeps, his reversals, and his cardio — he has endless cardio. He is a very tough competitor for anyone to face, and obviously, he is young. He is still only 23.
ONE: Lastly, since we spoke about viewership, what goals do you have for the rest of the year in regards to viewership?
CS: I would like to get ONE events to surpass 50 million this year. I do believe for our Tokyo event in October, which is the 100th show in the company’s history, we aim to have a mega-show, and I do believe we can beat 50 million.
Even before that, there may be a chance [to beat that] because our numbers are growing every week and every month, and obviously, our footprint is growing every week and every month as well. There are a lot of great things that are happening.