Guest post by Stephie "Crooklyn" Daniels. You can follow Crooklyn on Twitter at CrooklynMMA.
Diehard fans of Asian MMA have been left with a sizable hole in their viewing schedules following the demise of PRIDE, and although there have been a few notables, no other promotions have really laid claim to their throne. Sengoku tried, but failed after less than four years. DREAM has been trying to lay the groundwork as well, but serious financial issues have hindered their growth. Enter a new horse on the not so distant horizon, ONE FC.
Headed up and owned by Victor Cui, the former promoter of Martial Combat (which put out 12 events in 2010 under the ESPN Star Sports umbrella), the organization has already struck a landmark 10 year deal with ESPN Star Sports, and has a vast network of alliances with gyms across Asia and Australia. They've forged a partnership with DREAM that will bear it's first fruit on March 31, when Japanese featherweight superstar, Tatsuya Kawajiri, makes the trip to Singapore to fight former King of the Cage champion, Donald Sanchez, in front of 12,000 fans at the Singapore Indoor Stadium.
With major players stepping in as sponsor partners, co-promotional deals with SONY Pictures, and a solid plan for growth, ONE FC plans to be around for the long haul. In a recent interview I conducted with Victor, some of the blueprint for their future was revealed, as well as how they've managed to get the best deals in the business, while only having produced two shows to date.
ONE FC Network
"The ONE FC Network that we've launched, brings together every major promoter in every major country. You're talking about people being the very best at what they do. When you bring together all of those organizations, and when everybody has their own strengths, but it's the first time we've all tried to work together; to share fighters, to share knowledge, to share sponsorship opportunities, television deals. It's complex and it's hard, but the way we can exponentially grow the sport in Asia, is by working together. For the first time, under the ONE FC Network, all those players are coming together. You're talking about people that are very well established and very well respected, and have a huge and talented roster of fighters. The ONE FC Network allows everyone to get together, and gives those fighters opportunities to compete on each other's promotions. It also gives us a chance to figure out how we would do these co-promotions, what makes sense in each country, what the dates are, how we can combine our calendars, or, at the most basic level, how do we make our individual calendars happen so that we're not competing against each other."
More after the jump, including their deals with DREAM.
Co-promotion with DREAM
"The partnership that I have with DREAM, is not only to work together to develop the sport and share our world champion fighters, but to host a co-promotion together. We're working on the details for our first, full, co-promoted event, and we'll be making that announcement very soon. What we want to do is put together the best show in the world."
Many hands make light work
"I'm always interested in finding ways to work with other people. I really believe in this philosophy, and a lot of people quote me saying, 'Many hands make light work.' That's my approach to Asian MMA. What ONE FC is, is a regional opportunity. The television deal that I closed with ESPN in Asia, is unprecedented. It's a 10 year media deal. There is no other sporting property in the world that has a 10 year media deal. It's a sign of what ESPN believes ONE FC can do in the region. My close relationship that I have with them has allowed us to have that kind of deal. It means that what we are really focused on, is how we can bring MMA to the 500 million people around the region through ESPN and their platforms, and additionally bring MMA to all of the 3.9 billion Asians in these countries. That's really where the growth of the sport is."
Success where others have failed
"Japan has had its challenges, as well as other organizations in the United States. I really looked closely at their business models before we even launched ONE FC, and studied them, and looked at what makes sense, and what didn't make sense. That's why you'll see a couple different things about our business approach. One of them being that we're not spending extravagant amounts of dollars on legends and big names that would charge a huge chunk of money to come out here and have one fight and be done. We have looked for quality fighters that are of good value, that can put on entertaining, world class fights. Second thing is, we're developing fights that are globally relevant, but regionally applicable. They appeal to the European fan, the Brazilian fan, the Canadian fan, the American fan, but we still work hard to keep a distinct Asian feel to it, and we use local Asian talent, to give them the opportunity to showcase themselves on a ONE FC card. It's a tricky balance, because the skillset, obviously between Asian fighters, outside of Japan, is dramatically different than the developed scene in Europe or in North America, so we're always trying to find a balance between those two."
Blueprint of the future
"I'm focused on doing what I can for the sport. Luckily, for me, I've been in the sports media industry for over 15 years. I know Asian business, and my vision is to bring the most exciting fights and develop MMA to unprecedented levels in Asia. I've got a really strong network of relationships in the community with fighters and other promoters. That's what I focus on, making sure that we can work together to grow the sport, and that ONE FC continues to produce world class television content and events. We've got eight events scheduled over the next 12 months. Next year we'll expand to 14, and then after that, 24 events. We are on a very rapid pace."
Big name sponsors and movie tie-ins
"We're co promoting, with SONY Pictures in Asia, the launch of the Avengers movie. Fairtex is our equipment sponsor. Energizer Batteries and Schick Razors are also some of our other sponsor partners. Schick Razors have launched an entire branding campaign around ONE FC. When you go to the store, you will see the packaging around the razors with the ONE FC logo, promoting our event. I've been doing this for a long time in Asia, and these are all relationships that I've had in place. The media deals that I am securing in other countries are people that I've worked with, and that have grown to trust me, and have fallen in love with what ONE FC is doing. Everybody comes to a ONE FC event and leaves excited."
Victor's simple plan of keeping it regional, but with a global appeal, smart spending and massive media deals may be exactly what the chef has ordered in the recipe to success. Their next event takes place on March 31, and features a wealth of familiar and unknown talent, with an 11 fight card. There will be a featured PPV stream available, which can be found via their website. ONE FC may finally be the promotion to fill the void that PRIDE has left in so many of our hearts. It will be interesting, to say the least, to watch their progress.
You can follow Victor via his Twitter @ONEFCMMA