One of the biggest themes these days with fans and analysts critiquing the UFC has been the idea of there being too many events, thus watering down the card’s lineups. Chatri Sityodtong, a respected entrepreneur and a Harvard MBA graduate, who also heads Evolve MMA recently gave Five Ounces of Pain his thoughts on the matter.
“It’s hard to say now that I don’t live in America that the market is oversaturated or under saturated there. All I can say is that Asia has 3.9 billion and less than one percent have even heard of Mixed Martial Arts. No one has heard of the sport of MMA here. As far as being oversaturated in the world, we aren’t even close.”
“I can’t speak directly about America, but Dana [White] is right – I easily see the UFC being a 15-20 billion dollar company in the future with global expansion,” he continued. “I also see ONE FC being a multi-billion dollar company as well. Asian MMA is in its infancy stages here, and there is unbelievable room for growth. You go around Singapore and maybe 50-100 people in the country have been to a live MMA event. In Asia we shouldn’t even have the word ‘saturation’ in our vocabulary when it comes to MMA.”
There is no doubt that, although MMA in Japan is still alive, it has fallen from its PRIDE-era popularity and the landscape is still a long way away from having 65,000 people in Saitama Super Arena in Japan as it would have been a decade ago. Sityodtong said there are lessons to be learned from the business plans of the organizations who have come and gone.
“One reason that the hype train around ONE FC is very real is, although they did some unbelievable things in PRIDE, it’s impossible to get broadcast deals and real sponsors when you have the mafia running these things,” he frankly stated, pointing to PRIDE’s affiliation with the Yakuza. “That’s always been a big problem, and eventually lead to the downfall of Japanese MMA. With Victor Cui, the CEO of ONE FC, it’s the first time in Asia a legitimate sports media business person has take the helm of an MMA organization. That’s why you have seen all these major sponsors like Sony, Energizer, Motorola, Schick, Toyota, Chevrolet…all these big brands come on board. The reason why is it’s a real business, and not a mafia-run business. Victor used to work for ESPN Star sports here in Asia. ONE FC did a ten-year deal to broadcast deal with ESPN to broadcast in 28 countries across Asia. That would never happen without Victor because he is a legitimate businessman. It would never happen with a mafia owned company, and I can understand that. If you were a VP of Marketing at Coca-Cola would you risk your personal professional career on sponsoring a Yakuza lead event? You just wouldn’t because if there was a scandal you would be fired.”
Another item of criticism often offered from UFC/MMA fans has pertained to the lack of co-promoting with organizations in the US. However, that is not the case in Asia as many of the major promotions have already taken steps towards working together, opting to go with a team approach rather than a group of individual businesses.
“We put together the ONE FC Network,” explained Sityodtong. “We have successfully unified Asia. It’s basically exclusive partnerships with all of the largest MMA promotions in Asia, all of the top MMA gyms, and all the top fight managers. Around 200 people, the power-brokers of Asia have signed on to work exclusively with ONE FC, including Evolve MMA in terms of being one of the partners, and we have about 85-90% of the market share when it comes to Asian fighters by my estimates.”
“In Asia, we could see MMA was exploding around the world, but there was no clear leader to follow. When ONE FC announced its ten-year deal with ESPN, that was the moment of truth to rally together here around ONE FC and Victor’s leadership. Once it started it was a snowball effect; once we realized who the king of Asian MMA was, we all just galvanized around ONE FC.”
Those who have been following MMA since the early UFC events understand that it took a long time for MMA to really grab hold in the United States, but Sityodtong expects a much faster spread across Asia due to both the partnerships involved and martial arts’ meaning across the region.
“It will come around much, much quicker here,” predicted Sityodtong. “Fighting is part of the culture. I am not some unique guy in Thailand. Everyone has fought in Thailand.”
“Here is a golden rule if you are traveling as tourist in Thailand,” he joked “Don’t pick a fight with a cab driver here because there is a 70% chance he is a former Muay Thai fighter and maybe champion. My point being is that this type of competition is already in our culture and we get it already.”
“We have 70 million Muay Thai fighters in Asian (and) 100 million karate practitioners,” he concluded. “In America you had to explain to people what a flying kick, or a flying knee was. They already get that here. Our kids do it everyday in school. Once we get a major champion from Asia it will completely explode in popularity. The UFC had Chuck Liddell, Rich Franklin and the fans rallied around them. In Asia it will be the same way but happen much faster.”
PHOTO CREDIT – EVOLVE MMA