TOKYO (TR) – Since its launch in 2011, Singapore-based One Championship has carved out a niche in Asia by hosting of dozens of martial arts competitions across the region each year.
But Japan, one of the region’s biggest markets, has been bypassed by the company — that is, until now.
Last week, Chatri Sityodtong, Chairman and CEO of One Championship, told The Tokyo Reporter that its first event in Japan will be held in Tokyo in March of next year — a move that he foresees as being highly lucrative.
“We see Japan as a multi-billion-dollar opportunity for One Championship,” said Sityodtong by telephone.
One of the first steps towards making inroads in Japan was the establishment of a partnership with AbemaTV, a streaming service developed by media company CyberAgent and broadcaster TV Asahi.
Announced earlier this month, the deal will allow for One Championship events, which take place every two weeks, to be streamed live beginning on April 20. The platform will also feature a reality television series called “Surrogacy Battles,” which will profile up-and-coming fighters in one-hour episodes.
In entering the Japan market, the company will have to overcome a prevailing stigma that associates martial arts events with criminal syndicates. Beginning one decade ago, promoters Pride Fighting Championships and K-1 ran into such trouble, with the former ceasing operations altogether and the latter a shadow of its former self.
In overcoming that obstacle, Sityodtong promises “a new look,” one in which his background as businessman — including a Harvard M.B.A. — will be at the forefront. He also aims to emphasize martial arts as sport over the “blood sport” aspect that pervaded in the past.
“A big piece of it is the DNA of the organization, because of who I am,” said Sityodtong, who is half-Japanese, half-Thai. “I have over 30 plus years of Muay Thai [boxing] experience from Thailand. It’s about the warrior way of life, or bushido, if you will; it’s about inheriting the values of integrity, humility, honor, respect, courage and discipline.”
On the rise
In further speaking about conveying integrity, Sityodtong points out that financial firms, such as Sequoia Capital India, Mission Holdings and a subsidiary of Temasek Holdings, have minority stakes in One Championship.
They appear to have been rewarded. In recent years, One Championship, which has around 450 fighters on its roster, has been growing at a quick pace. A pair of seven-bout cards in Jakarta and Singapore in May will be two of the 24 to be held this year, the most in its history. As well, online viewership has surged over the past four years, according to data provided by the company.
For the Japan market, One Championship has competition. In September of last year, Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), one of the biggest promoters worldwide, held an event in Saitama Prefecture, its fifth in the country.
For Sityodtong, he believes in One Championship’s foothold in Asia, where it has always honored the local martial arts of the host countries of its events — and Japan will be no different.
“Asia’s been the home to martial arts for 5,000 years,” said Sityodtong. “Japan has a really rich history in martial arts, obviously, with akido, karate, judo, and we want to reignite or reawaken its popularity in Japan.”