The ONE Asia MMA Summit held from June 1st through 3rd, 2012, presented an opportunity for promoters, sponsors, gyms, and media from around the Austral-Asian region to network and collaborate on the growth of MMA in Asia. ONE Fighting Championship hosted approximately 150 people at the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore. Speakers from across the industry were organized into panels and break out sessions to cover a variety of important issues. On Day 2 of the Summit, these panel sessions commenced with an introduction by ONE FC CEO Victor Cui. This article focuses only on the first panel session as the event was quite comprehensive and informative; future columns will detail the remaining topics.
Panel Session 1: THE FUTURE OF ASIAN MMA
Chatri Sityodtong, CEO of Evolve MMA
|The frog under the coconut shell digs his way out and sees the world.|
Chatri has become a name synonymous with MMA in Asia. He’s a highly successful businessman who has turned his focus to MMA, developing one of the most recognized brands in Evolve MMA and assembling a stellar fight team. Chatri understands that the future does not need to be observed, but driven. The core of his speech was not ‘if’ MMA in Asia will succeed but ‘how’ it will. Starting out with a bang, he produced very simple powerpoint slides that read:
Chatri’s opener was a story about a frog that sees his whole world as the inside of a coconut shell. Eventually he tunnels out and sees that there is so much more. His analogy was to encourage a view of the big picture. Chatri stated that MMA is a “rising tide that will lift all boats”. He predicted that within ten years the sport will grow greater than 3,000% due to several reasons: Asians “get it” and are “hard-wired for combat sports”; fighting is a simple sport and will transcend socioeconomic boundaries; and it will galvanize nations. To achieve this success, Chatri outlined the most important attributes of the efforts needed: collaboration, adding value, safety, ethics, professionalism, patience, and finally unity.
Chatri stressed that safety was of paramount concern as the sport cannot afford a negligent casualty at this crucial moment of development, nor any other. Coupled with safety and how it can be achieved is an elevation of professionalism. In order to grow the sport ethically, professionals must see themselves as ambassadors and transcend the negative connotations professional combat sports have been associated with in the region. Chatri added that MMA needs to be looked at by its professionals as a business and work to “add value to every party in the ecosystem”. While being emphatic in addressing these points, Chatri urged patience as well.
His outlook for the future was aggressive, enthusiastic and contagious. Chatri stated that there will be two superpowers in the future: the UFC in the west and ONE FC in the east. He said there will be a rise of Asian-developed and grown MMA brands as well as an influx of brands from the west eager to branch into Asia. Chatri’s final sentiments were powerful: “MMA will overtake cricket. On Friday nights you’re going to ask each other, ‘What do you want to watch tonight, ONE FC or the UFC?'”
Bubbles Aguilar, Co-Founder of URCC
Bubbles is the Co-Founder and Marketing Director for the URCC, one of the longest-running MMA promotions in history, now in its tenth consecutive year. She started her explanation of this remarkable achievement with a statement about fundamental cultural differences: the western model is based on competition, or in buy offs – such as PRIDE by the UFC – whereas the eastern model is to work together. To further hammer home their success, Bubbles showed a video montage of URCC battles and knockouts that deserves to be labeled as among the best and most brutal highlight reels ever produced.
Bubbles then talked about the most crucial and relevant aspect of the future, which is the past – the beginnings of the URCC. She stated that husband and Co-Founder Alvin Aguilar – who was also a pioneer in the Philippines for Brazilian Jiu Jitsu – “wanted to bring all martial artists together to prevent street fights and bad blood”. The most difficult part of starting the events was the lack of sponsors. “No sponsor wanted to support it,” Bubbles shared, it was looked at as class struggle, non-Christian, and a human cockfight. So they approached the Gaming and Amusement Board to establish the sport as legitimate by way of government oversight and regulation. As the G&A had no experience in regards to MMA, they assisted them every step of the way, and found the best ways to work with them and not against them.
In referring back to her opening statement on unity, Bubbles talked about the URCC’s copromotional involvement with the Ring of Fire event in 2007, which brought in Ken Shamrock, Kimo, Royce Gracie, and Josh Barnett. It was an international event that they saw as a way to showcase the Asian fighters they’d been developing. Bubbles parting words reflected the URCC’s commitment to athletes and how beneficial the ONE FC network will be for the future of MMA in Asia. “We wanted to get our URCC Filipino fighters in the UFC,” she stated. “ONE FC changed everything. Now we want the locals to be the ones who appreciate them.”
Moon Hong Jung, CEO of ROAD FC
|Courtesy The Fight Nation|
Mr Jung is the man who single-handedly picked up the reins of Korean MMA when the mid- to late- 2000s promotions crumbled one by one, such as Spirit, MARS, and PRIDE. In the time that ROAD FC has been running, he’s showcased many of the best Korean fighters the country has ever produced, and has brought in foreign talent to test them. In the space of eight events, ROAD FC has moved from a small business meeting room to a thousand-seat ballroom to the iconic and historic 7,000 seat Jangchung Gymnasium.
Mr Jung does not speak English, but for this Summit, he endeavored to do so. It was a short and sweet message and he received a resounding applause for his effort. The following is his (slightly edited) statement.
“I was a fighter. Now I am a teacher. The reason I started ROAD Fighting Championship was to give Korean fighters opportunities. I will still give them as long as ROAD FC exists. I have the most trust in Victor.”
Luke Pezzutti, Co-Owner of CFC
Luke was the final panelist for this session. He shared in a lineal and direct fashion the events leading to the success of Cage Fighting Championship, which has held twenty events to date. His initial aim was simple: become the biggest promotion in Australia and get Aussie fighters into overseas promotions. Once he felt the Australian fighters were up in experience, he brought in overseas fighters. He pushed forward in getting MMA recognized as a valid sport by moving the events into commercial venues and in major cities, then broadcast. CFC’s Network alliance with ONE FC launched with the sharing of Bantamweight titleholder Gustavo Falciroli to the ONE FC 3 card.
Luke had very precise points as to the development of MMA for the future. More media coverage, getting the sport recognized by governing bodies, and a greater synergy with sponsors are issues that need to be addressed and promoted. He stated that CFC’s association with ONE FC shows that the sport is global. Through all of this, increasing the public’s awareness should go hand in hand with “keeping it real for the diehard fans”.
Luke stated that the major challenges to the sport are universal. The lack of sanctioning means that MMA is facing a legitimacy issue. Amateur MMA is immediately necessary: it is the “grass roots” of the sport and will serve as the future launching platform for fighters. Luke addressed that a unified set of rules and weight divisions are also an issue and need to be considered for the success of MMA in the future. He closed with a highlight reel of CFC events.
Each of these remarkably accomplished individuals graciously shared their successes and challenges in unique and fascinating ways. The common themes of legitimacy and safety were concurrent with each aspect of development in the past and growth in the future. Although each of these individuals have led their organizations in different ways, they are now united in the common goal of ushering in the bright and prosperous future of MMA in Asia.