Fancy a cuppa Lakay? (via Ivan Yap)
Just half a year ago, no MMA fan would’ve been faulted for mistaking the name Lakay for a new-fangled coffee-based beverage. Today, such regional gyms are finally getting the recognition they deserve on the world stage, proof positive that change is afoot in the Southeast Asian MMA arena. With the ONE Asia MMA Summit 2012 just around the corner, here’s a quick take on how ONE FC’s network model has contributed to this shift.
Until very recently, the MMA world had little impetus to cast a keen eye at the fight gyms in Southeast Asia, and the stream of talented fighters emerging from them. Despite having lived in Southeast Asia for 37 years, and having been an ardent MMA fan for at least half that time, I count myself firmly among those numbers. Those days are now past — a switch has been flicked, and brands such as Evolve MMA, Muayfit and Team Lakay now permanently reside in my MMA lexicon, as do fighter names like Eduard Folayang, Ole Laursen, Yodsanan Sityodtong, Peter Davis and Quek Kim Hock.
It had never occurred to me to contemplate the cause of the shift, but I found the answer staring me in the face when I read about ONE FC’s potentially-defining ONE Asia MMA Summit 2012 to be held at the iconic Marina Bay Sands this coming weekend. It was suddenly crystalline — the watershed moment was ONE FC’s entry into the scene, and more importantly, its decision to embrace a network approach to growing its business as opposed to striking out alone.
Anonymity to Awareness
ONE FC’s network model ensured its access to a vast stable of fighters from various promotions, making it a much more attractive proposition to major sports broadcasters. This led to the momentous 10-year cable deal it signed with leading sports broadcaster ESPN STAR Sports. Prior to the deal, media coverage of Southeast Asian MMA was all but absent. Without ubiquitous coverage, events languished as small local affairs, with poor prize purses and even poorer publicity. The fighters — although possessing well-rounded skills, an abundance of athletic talent and a ton of heart — were doomed to abject anonymity from the start. As the old adage goes, "out of sight, out of mind".
But the real paradigm shift was spurred by what came next. Not content with reaching a regional audience through its cable TV deal, ONE FC then took its events global by broadcasting them for free via web streaming. This instantly gave the warriors who toiled for hours in the gym unprecedented exposure to audiences located far beyond the borders of their immediate localities. A fighter now stood to become much more than just a hometown hero — he or she could become a global phenomenon. This was the incentive fighters needed to devote themselves fully to their crafts, and for gym owners to maintain professional fight teams.
Anarchy, Audience Apathy to Alignment, Amplification
Without a concerted effort to consolidate promotional efforts, it was always going to be an uphill task for the separate promotions — in their anemic state of fragmentation — to galvanize wider and deeper audience interest. As critical cogs in a greater machine, the ONE FC network offered them an opportunity to arrive at mutually beneficial arrangements that would bolster the sustainability and financial viability of their operations, and as a corollary to this, accelerate the growth of the sport in Southeast Asia which — in turn — would perpetuate the cycle of success. By speaking with a singular, louder voice, the separate promotions now had a better chance of being heard by audiences across and beyond the region.
The proceedings of the ONE Asia MMA Summit 2012 are likely to speed up the transformation of the MMA landscape in Southeast Asia even further. Through the forging of new alliances, the pollination of ideas and the sharing of best practices, less-established participating organizations stand to gain tremendously from this meeting of minds, enabling them to evolve more rapidly from primordial ooze to sophisticated, self-sustaining organisms. And given the relative infancy of the MMA market in the region, this is exactly what is needed for the sport to truly flourish.