Thailand’s ONE Championship planning first U.S. event

ONE Championship, the mixed martial arts media empire founded by Thai entrepreneur Chatri Sityodtong, intends to begin challenging America’s Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) for market leadership by staging its first event in the U.s. sometime later this year.

Chatri said One Championship would hold its first mixed martial arts (MMA) event in the U.S. later this year “if all goes according to plan.” That would be in addition to its first events in India, and its continued expansion into China.

The promoter regularly puts on matches in Bangkok, Manila, Tokyo, Jakarta, Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. ONE tested the U.S. market waters with a media day in 2019 featuring MMA stars Demetrious Johnson, Eddie Alvarez, Miesha Tate, and Vitor Belfort.

“ONE is a monster,” UFC president Dana White told reporters late last year in sizing up the leading challenger to his promotional firm’s top spot in MMA.

ONE Championship founder Chatri is a 48-year-old former Muay Thai fighter with a degree from Tufts University and an MBA from Harvard. Nonetheless, he is not a stranger to struggle, as his parents’ family business went bankrupt in the Asian economic crisis of 1997.

Today, his company has been valued at over $1 billion, and FOX Sports named him Asia’s second most powerful person in sports.

Chatri beliefs ONE Championship can carve out a niche for itself in the American market by playing up the moral values attached to martial arts in Asia as opposed to the pro-wrestling-style promotions of UFC and the sometimes-scandalous behavior of its stars, such as Connor McGregor.

He believes audiences in the U.S. are tired of that kind of conflict and are looking for something reminiscent of earlier eras in sport when athletes were looked up to as role models of good behavior.

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