One Fighting Championship CEO Victor Cui’s audacious plans include five shows for the remainder of this year -- one in Indonesia in September, three in Singapore and another in the Philippines -- and 24 events in 2014. Although it may seem a monumental undertaking to some, Cui believes his staff can pull it off.
“Luckily, I’ve got an amazing team,” Cui told Sherdog.com. “We couldn’t have grown as fast as we have without one. The big difference for us is that holding the event is easy for us. I’ve been running world-class events across Asia for the last eight years.”
With more than 15 years in the sports media industry, Cui has served as an executive for ESPN Star Sports and the PGA Tour. He has helped bring sporting events like the X Games, the Olympics and the Commonwealth Games to countries throughout Asia.
“We have developed relationships with government, business and the community,” Cui said. “That aspect is the easiest part. The truly difficult part is juggling the schedules with timing and venue. There are things that are beyond our control, like religious and national holidays. As we move from country to country, there are different public holidays, political sensitivities and venue availabilities. In some countries, the government can and will randomly announce a holiday. In Malaysia, for instance, each state has a different king and each king or sultan also has the authority to declare their own holiday whenever they want. That’s the nature of business out here; you can’t let it frustrate you.
“The biggest challenge we face now, even though our company is only 19 months old, is that because we have grown so fast, the size of our events keep growing; our last event in Manila was in a 20,000-seat stadium -- the biggest venue in most cities of Asia,” he added. “We can no longer have events in a 5,000-seat ballroom -- our fans are too big -- so the size of the venue is becoming restrictive and, quite often, the venues that have the capacity we need are away from the city center. It’s kind of a continuous, moving jigsaw puzzle in each country, and we’ve learned to be flexible. Asia is a great place for MMA because of its explosive growth and the many opportunities.”
Cui acknowledges bringing One FC to China and Hong Kong as an entirely separate endeavor.
“A lot of businesses look to focus on China,” he said. “Without a doubt, it’s a very important market with a population of one billion, but the strategy for entering China is a strategy on its own; it is different than any other country, with its state-controlled media and policies. [You] have to have the right relationships. I’ve already developed some when I brought the X Games there. With the X Games, we were talking to government officials who’d never even heard of a skateboard. It was a complex process introducing a new sport to a society that didn’t even have regular public sidewalks, and it required a good deal of education, partnership [and] knowledge of regulations.
“With MMA, this looks to be a parallel experience, but have already developed the friendships, partnerships and relationships to prepare for this,” Cui added. “We will without a doubt be in Hong Kong and Beijing, and we will probably have an entire team devoted to a Chinese branch.”
Some other countries One FC plans to visit in 2014 include India, Indonesia, Taiwan, South Korea, the Philippines, Cambodia, Myanmar and Japan.
“There’s a reason we have so many Japanese fighters on our cards,” Cui said, “and it’s not only because they are some of the best fighters in the world.”
One of those top-tier fighters, Shinya Aoki, has already made it clear he wants to see One FC come to Tokyo so he can compete in front of his hometown crowd again.
In One FC’s quest to revive the MMA scene in Asia, the promotion has sought fighters from all over the continent, along with various other parts of the world. Booked for Sept. 10 in Jakarta, Indonesia, One FC 10 “Kojima vs. Leone” will feature fighters from Japan, Korea, Thailand, Brazil, the United States, Cameroon and others. The promotion has already crowned champions in the 135, 145 and 155-pound weight divisions.
“As the pool deepens, we will be looking to have a title in every weight class,” Cui said. “The tougher ones to fill are heavyweight and super heavyweight, as they are harder to find in Asia.”
With the increasing growth and popularity of women’s MMA, One FC also has designs on adding more female fights to its events.
“We have had one female fight on a One FC card, and it worked really well,” Cui said. “We would love to have more, and we are looking to put female fights on future cards. The response has been great, but some countries are not ready to hold female fights. There are some places that are still too conservative, especially in Muslim countries like Indonesia. We try to remain sensitive to each country’s political and cultural norms. However, in other markets, like Singapore, we’re ready if we can find the right matchup.”
Cui does not view the Ultimate Fighting Championship as a threat to One FC’s success in Asia.
“Our roster is 95 percent Asian, five percent other,” he said. “We are focusing on developing national champions in each country that we visit, showing the world some of the best fighters in their own countries. One of the reasons One FC has grown so globally, with our events broadcast to 70 countries and approaching one billion potential viewers, is that we are bringing [in] authentic fighters. When people ask who will be the next Bruce Lee, it only makes sense that he or she would come out of Asia, the home of martial arts for the last 5,000 years. When we held our MMA summit at [the] Marina Bay Sands Hotel [in Singapore], I had no idea that 500 people, including the brother and sister of Bruce Lee, would come out to support One FC [and] to meet and talk about the things that are important to us.
“We are the only sporting event in Asia that continually sells out stadiums wherever we go,” Cui added. “Our event in Singapore was the first event in the last eight years to sell out the [Singapore] Indoor Stadium. In the Philippines, we were the number one-rated show when we were there. Every Friday that we broadcast live, we are the biggest show in Asia on Star Sports. That kind of response is unbelievable, and I’m excited to see where it’s going.”