MMA giants ONE Championship to tie up with local promotions and create tournaments in India | EXCLUSIVE
The sport of Mixed Martial Arts has been growing rapidly in the last decade. A niche sport in the 2000s, MMA has become a globally recognized entity with several companies vying for dominance. With UFC being the dominant player in the Western market, Singapore-based MMA promotion ONE Championship has seen its popularity grow to extraordinary levels since its inception in 2011.
It has quickly established itself as a premier organization of MMA with several world champions and elite athletes under its establishment. The company has maintained its ethos of maintaining honesty, integrity, and respect in its functioning.
After becoming an established player in East Asia, ONE Championship shifted its focus towards India. It landed a deal with broadcasters Star Sports for its events and looks to further get a foothold in a country of 1.3 billion people.
Hari Vijayan, Chief Commercial Officer of ONE Championship, talked about how the company plans to expand its status in India with a unique strategy of hero building.
“We see a huge potential in the long term in India. If you look at other sports beyond cricket, there is kabaddi, there is soccer. There are things happening in India for the new-age millennials. And I think we are at the right moment to capitalize on sports beyond cricket. We brought about our formula of values, hero building, and storytelling to India in a big way starting last year,” Hari said in an exclusive conversation with Hindustan Times.
“In the 12 months, we have seen our viewership increase almost 30 times. We also have our Indian heroes like Ritu Phogat or Arjan Bhullar, so there is a lot of national pride. We think martial arts is just getting started in India, we are creating a platform and a young cool vibe and we are doing it through storytelling.”
Hari then went on to talk about how ONE Championship is not trying to sell fights to the fans but looking to inspire the people with its business model.
“From day ONE our mission has been to unleash real-life superheroes who ignite the people with dreams and hope. We are not selling fights, we are asking people to watch fights. We are selling inspiration. We are having people in India, seeing stories of their role models.”
“Potentially also seeing kids having posters of someone like Ritu Phogat. What we are going about when we project matches in India is built upon some of the great Indian values like integrity, humility, respect, honour, courage, and compassion. That’s what we want to showcase, not people going at each other. That is a new approach we are taking.”
Since it started airing last year, the viewership of ONE Championship is growing exponentially. They had 20 million viewers in India last year and are now seeing a 30-fold increase. Hari also revealed an interesting fact that women contribute 50 percent of the viewership of the fights.
“We had 20 million viewers when we launched last year. Now in the middle of 2020, we already see a 30-fold increase. We are very excited about its potential. India has a billion-plus people. We had 280 million unique viewers across the world. In India also, we have content in Hindi. We want to attach ourselves to the heart and emotions of people. Another interesting fact about India is 50 percent of our audience is female.”
The founder and CEO of ONE Championship Chatri Sityodtong is an inspirational figure throughout the world. His persistence and grit in getting ONE Championship to the level it is right now and that too in just 9 years will be a story told for ages. Now he is set to bring the world-famous ‘Apprentice’ series to Asia. The show will see 16 contestants fight out for a chance to become Chatri’s protégé and win $250,000. Hari talked about the show and how Indian entrepreneur Ankiti Bose entered the fray as ONE of the 12 guest CEOs.
“We are someONE who innovates. When Covid happened, all live sports were cancelled. We as a company have a relentless spirit of innovation. Martial art matches have taken a backseat due to the situation. MGM studios approached us and wanted to make ‘Apprentice’ a household name in Asia. So they brought in Chatri Sityodtong. He is dynamic, young, and has an amazing personality. He also has a fascinating story himself. 16 contestants will fight out for a dream job to be Chatri’s protégé and 250000 dollar job offer.”
“Ankiti Bose is the only Indian to almost build a unicorn. She is housed in Singapore and she also has an amazing story. At the age of 22-23, she build Zilingo. We are really proud of having an icon like her on the show.”
ONE Championship already has a big wrestling superstar in Ritu Phogat as its face in India. So how important was it to get a champion like Ritu to gain a foothold in a large and diverse country like India?
“Ritu is a competent athlete but her family legacy also made us want to have her. We wanted a hero to light up India and Ritu was our choice after an extensive study. Better still that she is a woman who stands for so many amazing things like female empowerment and gender disparity.”
If a sport has to grow in a country then the continuous focus has to be put at the grass-root level like academies to train or regional tournaments. It helps in providing basic knowledge of competition to the young generation. Hari explained that they are looking to work with local promotions in India and create tournaments to find the talent. He maintained that ONE Championship wants the ‘cream of the cream’ of fighting talent in India.
“We want to show that martial arts and working for ONE Championship are a great career option. We have a series called ONE Hero series, which is live in China and are going to launch it in Thailand and Indonesia later this year. The same plan for India. The whole genesis for that is to go into the grassroots, go into the local gyms, work with local promotions, and create tournaments. We want to give a platform and voice to the existing talent. The cream of the cream is what we want and we are going to create forums around that. We want to create regional tournaments like cricket.”