ONE FC CEO Victor Cui: “We Are Distinctively Asian, And This Gives Us A Competitive Edge (Over The UFC) In This Region.”
By Tom Taylor
On February 26, the UFC brought its brand of MMA action to Saitama, Japan, marking the promotion’s first trip in over a decade into the Asian MMA market, a market that many believed could no longer support the sport at a mainstream level.
While Japan’s Pride Fighting Championship once ruled the global MMA landscape, its collapse and subsequent amalgamation into the UFC left Japan’s MMA scene looking desolate. An area that once boasted the world’s most lucrative MMA promotions gradually became riddled with struggling promotions that, at times, were even unable to pay their own fighters.
Despite the dire straits that were believed to have hit the Asian MMA scene, the UFC’s return to the continent coincided with a recent resurgence of hope that Asia might again become the MMA hotbed it once was.
The UFC is not the only promotion that has caught the scent of this business opportunity. Another organization, ONE Fighting Championships (ONE FC) also aims to resuscitate the Asian MMA scene. Helmed by Asian-Canadian businessman Victor Cui, ONE FC is attacking the Asian MMA market from a unique angle. Cui spoke with Full Contact Fighter about his blossoming promotion, ONE FC.
On March 31, ONE FC held its third event, from Kallang, Singapore. The event, “War of the Lions,” was a tremendous success, according to Cui.
“In terms of ONE FC: War of the Lions, I was totally blown away by the event. Everything from the show production to the actual fights was phenomenally executed,” Cui said. “We sold out the Singapore indoor stadium with approximately 8,000 screaming fans.”
With a third show in the can, Cui is optimistic that the promotion’s next endeavour will be equally fruitful. ONE FC’s next event will be called ‘Destiny of Warriors’ and will go down on June 3, from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. In the main event, former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Renato “Babalu” Sobral will lock horns with master judoka Tatsuya Mizuno.
The event will also showcase a fight between leg-lock specialist Masakazu Imanari and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu World Champion, Leando “Brodinho” Issa. According to Cui, the remainder of the card will be announced shortly. Beyond ONE FC: ‘Destiny of Warriors,’ Cui promises a continued barrage of entertainment.
“I can guarantee that there will be at least two more events in 2012, after the Malaysia event—one in August in the Philippines, another in Singapore later on, and possibly one more at the end of the year,” he said.
As ONE FC has begun to dig its teeth into Asian MMA, so too has the UFC. Cui is complimentary of the UFC’s recent effort in Asia, and of the Asian fighters who competed over the course of the card.
“Their show production was fantastic, and their fighters’ performances were top-notch. There were many world-class Japanese fighters on the card, which just goes to show that Asian fighters can indeed compete at the highest level of the sport.”
Despite his positive assessment of UFC 144, the UFC is, and will continue to be one of ONE FC’s most daunting competitors. To survive in the face of the UFC’s charge into Asia, ONE FC will need to separate itself from the UFC, and offer a unique experience that the UFC does not.
In North America, Bellator Fighting Championships has quickly ascended to the upper reaches of the global MMA scene by utilizing a tournament style format, something the UFC does not do. In the same way, Cui says ONE FC hopes to separate itself from the UFC by executing a business model that focuses exclusively on Asian MMA.
“Over the course of the last decade, mixed martial art has become the fastest growing sport in the world. Although much attention was focused on North America, Brazil, and Japan, I definitely believe that there is a momentum shift to the Asian region, particularly Southeast Asia.
“Asia is the birthplace of many forms of martial arts. It’s been embedded in their culture for over 5,000 years,” he said. “When I started ONE FC, I wanted to create a platform for fighters from all across the Asian region to compete at the highest level possible. At ONE FC we are distinctively Asian, and this gives us a competitive edge [over the UFC] in this region.”
Despite the distinctly Asian approach that Cui hopes to take with ONE FC, he understands the importance of North American MMA fans to any promotion’s success.
“We are not planning on holding events in North America, but you can’t deny that North Americans are probably the most MMA-savvy in the world. We’ll always make our events accessible to everyone around the world via live streaming on the Internet,” he said.
Cui’s appreciation for the strength of MMA’s growth in North America might eventually push him to seek out an alliance or partnership with Zuffa, LLC, the parent company of both the UFC and Strikeforce. In fact, ONE’s use of Zuffa-owned Pride fight footage during its last show suggest that some sort of relationship could be in the works. Cui, however, declined to comment on this issue.
In addition to the Asian focus of ONE FC and its worldwide availability via the Internet, Cui plans to arm the promotion in another way, to ensure it stays competitive. Through the creation of an alliance called ‘The ONE FC Network,” Cui has developed a relationship with numerous promotions and gyms throughout Asia.
“In the ONE FC Network, we bring together the top promotions and gyms from around the region, like the URCC, DREAM, and ROAD FC, and grant fighters the opportunity to fight on any promotion on the ONE FC Network. This allows fighters the chance to fight more times than ever before, which means more experience, more exposure, and higher pay-days,” Cui said.
Thus far, the network includes notable promotions such as DREAM, which is based in Japan, PAK MMA of Pakistan, and Cage Fighting Championships of Australia. The network also includes a slew of reputable gyms, including Legacy gym, Fairtex gym, and Tiger Muay Thai and MMA, all based out of Thailand, as well as Synergy Jiu Jitsu and Spider Academy in Indonesia, to name a few.
Cui aims to corner the Asian and Australian MMA markets through a mutually beneficial relationship with the camps and promotions that are established there.
One such promotion that is also currently gaining ground in Asia is India’s Super Fight League. Super Fight League, or the SFL, has held several shows, and has signed notable fighters such as Todd Duffee, Kultar Gill, James Thompson, and Alexander Shlemenko and Ikuhisa Minowa. Despite the star power and increasingly sturdy foothold that the SFL has developed in India, Cui says a partnership between ONE FC and the SFL is not something he is currently pursuing.
“Super Fight League are doing great at what they’re doing at the moment. But currently we’re focused on holding events in Southeast Asia, and other countries outside of India.” While this is not an alliance that ONE FC is currently interested in, Cui believes ONE FC’s unique business model will prove to the MMA community that MMA never died in Asia—it’s just been dormant.
“I think that Asian MMA is, in fact, on the rise. Japan may have suffered from a slight road-block after the downfall of PRIDE, but I believe people underestimate the potential in Asia,” Cui said. “Most of the Asian fighters have not had the kind of exposure and infrastructure they deserve to showcase their talent, but this is all developing very swiftly.”
Cui aims to be a significant catalyst in the development of this Asian talent, and will do so in part by holding numerous ONE FC events in the near future. Outside of the three additional events ONE FC hopes to hold in 2012, Cui hopes the promotion will also hold “18 in 2013 and 24 by 2014.” How ONE FC will fair in the hulking shadow of the UFC remains to be seen, but as ONE FC’s future unfolds, Cui’s mission is simple:
“[We want to] continue to showcase the best international fighters and upcoming Asian talent in the largest stadiums across the most beautiful cities in the Asian region.”