ONE Fighting Championship recently concluded the 2013 series of events in Manila, Philippines with “Moment of Truth”, their thirteenth event to date. The promotion held seven events in four countries this year, with a live broadcast coming to fruition. Hoards of new fighters were signed from around the world and three weight classes now have champions sitting atop the ranks.
ONE FC boss Victor Cui has remained the outspoken voice of the promotion, always eager to talk about the great strides his promotion is making in the Asian market. Cui’s forecast of MMA becoming the greatest sport on this side of the globe captures widespread attention. At the recent ONE FC event in Manila, MMA-in-ASIA caught up with the gregarious CEO and elicited a great deal about expansive plans he has for 2014.
MMA-in-ASIA: First of all, earlier you mentioned something to the Lakay team about giving them all pay raises. Can you talk about that?
Victor: Yes, I did, I gave all our fighters bonuses. It was a fantastic year this year. If you look at here in the Philippines alone, we’ve tripled our sponsors since just May. We’ve signed sponsors that have never done MMA. We’ve got Petron on board, the oil and gas company, and they did an activation across all of their gas stations. That’s huge! They see what we’re doing and they value it. Also, Petron is expanding across Asia. They’re the number 2 gas station in Malaysia. They’re an early strong regional partner for us.
MMA-in-ASIA: Your expanding FOX and STAR Sports broadcasts have gained a lot of attention throughout Asia recently. What are your future broadcasting plans?
Victor: Our TV deals are expanding. We’ve hired this new guy, Patrick Murphy from Switzerland. In the world of sports media, he’s a Tiger Woods, he’s a Muhummed Ali, he’s a rock star of sports media rights. When you think of who has sold the most and is the best in the world at this, it’s Patrick Murphy from Champions League. Champions League brings the best of each country. Outside of the Olympics and World Cup, and one-off events like that, it’s the highest grossing sporting property in the world. It’s the only sporting property that’s bought and paid for by a broadcaster in every single country in the world. In media rights that’s about 1.6billion Euros per year. Patrick led the team that did that – when he took over Champions League 12 years ago, it was selling 12 million dollars a year. Today it’s selling 1.6 billion Euros.
Patrick has since left that company and moved to Hong Kong, and he’s representing us exclusively. Everyone wants something out of Asia, they are looking over here to see what’s going on, and how they can figure it out. The only sports property that all the broadcasters care about is MMA. They don’t want to pay for Asian basketball, Asian golf, Asian tennis. Nobody wants to watch the PBA outside of the Philippines. [Murphy] sees the same story unfolding here as it did with Champions League.
MMA-in-ASIA: How are you able to make these television deals, bring sponsors on board, and hire guys like Murphy without an extensive catalogue? ONE FC has to date only held thirteen events.
Victor: There are two ways broadcasters look at acquiring content. One is you have a huge library of stuff, but very low value in a live event – an event that nobody cares if it is live or delayed. I don’t want to pick a sport… [one] where you could have thousands of hours of content, but whether you’re watching a match live or one that happened a month ago doesn’t really matter. So when people make money by selling their archives, that’s one big area.
Or, you have a really valuable live event – which is what ONE FC is – and feature content. So broadcasters watch ONE FC, they can see that the quality is good, that the production values are there, and it’s risk free for them. There are a lot of events out there that can make post-produced shows, but what separates mom-and-pop’s out there is being able to deliver global live content, which is a whole different level of production. You’re sending up to satellites – like to get from here to our broadcaster in South Africa is three satellite hops. That means you have to have a team that knows what they’re doing. You have to be able to produce an international feed, a regional feed, and a domestic feed – different languages. We were in Cambodia live in Khmer. When people have the confidence that you’re able to deliver that, they they’re willing to pay you for it.
MMA-in-ASIA: On that note, the last three events ONE FC has held have seemed like a bit of a “feeling out” between using well-known foreign players and regional new fighters. You’ve made a statement before about growing the local markets by building local fighters from the ground up. How is ONE FC going to handle the contrast between growing the regional markets and capturing global recognition?
Victor: It’s very tough. We’re playing with the formula. You’re going to see more and more signings of top global fighters who are pound for pound some of the best in the world.
MMA-in-ASIA: Such as Ben Askren [who was announced after this Manila event]. That stemmed from rumors that started from single Tweet, like when everyone thought Rampage Jackson had signed to ONE FC.
Victor: Exactly, all I said [to Jackson] was something like “Hey, I’ll see you at the party”. So now I’m extra cautious about what I say! So, back to how do we support these local fighters who are coming up, who are like 3-0, but still have a card that’s relevant to everyone else around the world? It’s difficult. You may have a fighter who is very popular in a certain area but who is not a very talented fighter, so you have to balance a fighter who is going to sell 2,000 tickets to a venue and where you put him on the card, versus someone who has global appeal.
I think we’re going to iron it out in 2014 by activating more of the other events and partners that we have in the ONE FC Network, to put these younger guys on the roster and give them a little more experience earlier. We haven’t done a lot of that because it hasn’t been our focus. You got a glimpse of it at MIMMA [Malaysian Invasion MMA amateur finale] where three of the matches were by ONE FC and we put them on the top of the card. I like that formula, where we’re able to support and help elevate a local event, and give our fighters a great opportunity. We wouldn’t put one of our World Champions on those events, but a newly-signed guy that’s coming out of the Philippines or Cambodia makes perfect sense.
MMA-in-ASIA: So this would be on some of the other ONE FC Network’s promotions’ shows?
Victor: Yes, like MIMMA for example.
MMA-in-ASIA: Can you release the dates for any of the new shows coming up?
Victor: Let me keep it relevant to the Philippines for the moment. We’re going to announce a multi-year deal with a venue partner here that will lock down our dates. To be able to say the dates that we will be in the market for the next five years – that’s big. It’s what our sponsors want to see. The venue is happy, and we’re happy with it.
Hopefully by January we’ll be able to make an announcement of our date in Japan. We’re working on a new TV deal in that market. And a co-promotion in Korea.
MMA-in-ASIA: I do remember when the ONE FC Network started, ROAD FC announced that as a part of this association, there would be a ONE FC versus ROAD FC event.
Victor: Mr Jung [ROAD FC CEO] really wants to see it happen. I think the challenge that we’ve had in Korea is not the two organizations working together, but the scale of how big we want to make it. We’re talking about is it a 20,000 [capacity] event, or an 8,000 or 10,000 event. We’re guessing a little, and it represents a risk on both sides, so we don’t want to rush into that. What’s good about Korea is that there are so many fighters out there who are looking for more fight opportunities and who want to be on ONE FC or ROAD FC events. I think it works out really well.
MMA-in-ASIA: So you are working on Japan, Korea, and the Philippines right now.
Victor: Yes. Some other countries are confirmed. Hong Kong.
MMA-in-ASIA: Do you have a date for that?
Victor: I do, it will be the last half of the year . We’ve booked the venue already. It’s going to be at the Expo. I can’t tell you the other areas we’re going to because we have to announce those with the sponsors.
MMA-in-ASIA: Will expansion into these new markets be in conjunction with shows still being held in Malaysia and Indonesia?
Victor: Yes. We’ll continue in those countries and add the new countries we’re going to.
MMA-in-ASIA: How many events are forecast for 2014 at this point?
Victor: One a month starting in March, because the Chinese New Year [date] really screws up the schedule – we go Christmas, New Year, then four weeks later is Chinese New Year – we’re stuck between a rock and a hard place! We have to avoid any countries that celebrate the [lunar] New Year, and then in March 14th we’re back in Kuala Lumpur.
I’m toying around with this idea. What I’d really like to do is a fighters’ summit. Bring in all of our signed fighters, and all we do is focus on their development. We do some seminars, bring in some coaches, talk to them about how to do media interviews, how to get sponsors, how to make a good fighter entrance. How to decide what song to pick. All that stuff that none of them know anything about. I’d really like to do that, it gets me excited, that kind of knowledge transfer and helping their careers.
MMA-in-ASIA: Would it be summertime like the last summit?
Victor: No, I’m thinking February. No one’s ever done that before. I think it would be a fantastic development for the community.
MMA-in-ASIA: What are your thoughts on the UFC coming to Singapore?
Victor: I think it’s great. What I always try to remind people is how frequently we talk to UFC, whether it’s with Mark Fischer, or that our Vice President has worked with the UFC for over 20 years and has a world champion in the UFC. Sean Shelby, their matchmaker, and Matt Hume are best friends. There are zero conversations about Asian fighters that we are not fully abreast about. Singapore has a small population yet has two gigantic [MMA] corporations there.
MMA-in-ASIA: Does it fulfill some of your predictions about MMA in this part of the world?
Yes, remember, two years ago we said that we had about 2 years before the UFC would figure out they needed to have an office in Singapore. What I really want UFC to do that I’m sad they haven’t been, is doing marketing. I was hoping that they’d spend $10 million and blow up the market. But they are in such a small venue of 3,000 that they don’t really need to market.
MMA-in-ASIA: The Manila show is your last event in 2013. How did the year turn out for ONE FC?
Victor: This year has been a much more positive year than I could have expected. I’m excited about the new signings that we’re going to do and hitting full steam ahead again in 2014 into new countries!