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« | Home | »

Will One FC shift Asian MMA away from being Japanese-centric?

By Zach Arnold | August 30, 2011

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On Saturday night, One FC will make its highly-publicized debut as a promotion at Singapore’s Indoor Stadium. Our friend Mike Hackler will be in attendance at the show. When I asked Mike about the amount of money that the promotion has for backing, he bluntly put it this way: “they’re well-capitalized.”

Dan Herbertson: Victor Cui says One FC will be king of MMA in Asia

In many ways, this promotion has the table set to make a run on the level of PRIDE. ESPN STAR is a major player. Victor Cui, the CEO of One FC, is well-connected in the media, business, and promotional worlds. With operations starting out primarily in Singapore, Mr. Cui has positioned the organization to not only receive substantial media attention but also receive some major inquiries for sponsorships.

What makes One FC an immediate player in Asia is that they’re everything that isn’t Japanese about the MMA scene. A decade ago, everyone in Asia was envious about what was going on in Japan. Japan was viewed as the gold standard and the trend-setter. What happened in Japan dominated the trends and tastes for other Asian countries. A decade later, Japan is collapsing on many fronts.

Combine all of the factors noted up above with the previous societal problems Japan has been facing:

What you end up with is a massively toxic stew for any sort of long-term major-stage MMA success in the one Asian country that had been such a strong anchor for the sport for an extended period of time.

Want to know a perfect example to illustrate the state of Japanese affairs in 2011? Antonio Inoki is trumpeting up a plan for a show in North Korea next year to celebrate Kim Il-Sung, the father of Kim Jong-Il.

Singapore & Hong Kong are well-positioned to be home bases for the strongest future MMA plays in Asia. Legend FC, a group that a former News Corp. COO is involved with, is trying to make a run at things in HK. One FC is based in Singapore, which makes more sense because the promotion can make in-roads into Australia, Malaysia, and Thailand.

UFC has positioned itself, very similarly to WWE, as a ‘cookie-cutter export’ operation to new markets. What you see in America is what you get when they bring the traveling circus to your area. In Asia, however, that approach may not be as successful. For sure, Australia has proven to be a winner for UFC, but don’t expect Japan or mainland China to immediately embrace a product that isn’t centered around their cultural demands.

Can One FC galvanize support from current & former hardcore MMA fans?

With the growth of UFC as a major international player, I thought the interview Jack Encarnacao did with Fox Sports boss Eric Shanks for Sherdog was depressingly illuminating. Mr. Shanks admitted that Ari Emanuel pitched him the idea of Fox signing a TV rights deal with the UFC and he also parroted the Zuffa Myth about how Dana White & Lorenzo Fertitta saved the sport of MMA from ‘going into a black hole.’ It was depressing to listen to because clearly he buys into the story hook, line, and sinker. He talked about how UFC used to host shows in states with no athletic commissions and now… “they only fight in states that have strong athletic commissions.”

Mr. Shanks alluded to an idea for a show on Fuel TV which would be a UFC ‘fantasy booking’ kind of show featuring MMA fighters, writers, and perhaps fans basically bringing a message board-style conversation to life in a roundtable television format.

Other things said during the Sherdog interview:

Now, I bring up this Sherdog interview with the Fox Sports boss for one reason in relation to One FC. Over the past month, I’ve been playing catch-up with some old friends and contacts that I used to talk to all the time 5-10 years ago in the MMA world. The majority of them are not active in MMA any longer and when I asked them why they washed their hands of MMA, the majority of them said that they felt like the sport was taken away from them and had become something that they didn’t want to envision it as in their minds: a UFC-dominated one-production-flavor corporate landscape.

Which leads me to the build-up for One FC this weekend. There’s a palpable buzz amongst the hardcore fans that what we’re about to witness here is a promotion that could fill the void of PRIDE and could bring back old hardcore MMA fans to the table that are disgruntled by the current Zuffa-dominated landscape. I realize that there’s a significant amount of projection by fans in terms of what their expectations are going to be for One FC, but clearly there is a hunger & desire to see a major non-American MMA player in the industry. That’s where One FC is currently positioning themselves.

Here’s a look at the fight card Saturday’s One FC debut event at Singapore Indoor Stadium:

Dark matches

Main card

As you probably can guess, a lot of the core fighters on this card are from the Evolve MMA gym in Singapore. This is a gym that Zeus from Middle Easy toured and was blown away by.

One FC’s unique rules structure

Matt Hume is being brought in by One FC to oversee the officiating & judging process for the promotion. He will oversee the rules meeting and work with Yuji Shimada. The rules One FC are using for their debut show is a combination of the Unified Rules & PRIDE rules.

Matt recently did a lengthy interview with Eddie Goldman and talked about why the blending of the Unified & PRIDE rules will make for an exciting sports product. When asked if allowing soccer ball kicks would be too dangerous, Matt simply replied: “crossing the street is dangerous, too.”

“The danger is not that a soccer kick is allowed. The danger is when you mismatch two people or when you allow something to occur in a fight that a person is not prepared for.

“Those fighters should be versed in all aspects of fighting. If they’re not, then there’s a problem with the people that you’re putting in.”

The interview featured a discussion about the way athletic commissions are currently performing in terms of regulating MMA in the States. Mr. Hume said that there’s both good & bad aspects with the commissions but that the commissions are proving to be incompetent and ill-equipped to train judges & referees. One FC is bringing in the commissioner of a local amateur boxing organization and that other officials, including those who will oversee medical testing, are being brought in from different areas.

“One FC, so far, has been very responsible.”

Why One FC could do well in certain Asian markets when PRIDE couldn’t

In regards to what kind of business plans One FC has in store for the Asian marketplace, Mr. Hume says that the promotion will be aggressive in producing events in countries such as Thailand.

Victor, he’s got lofty, lofty goals and, you know, right now UFC’s got a stronghold in the United States but that’s not One FC’s goal, their goal is not to compete with the UFC. Their goal is just to be the best that they can be and they’re focused on Asia right now. They’ve got ESPN in Asia there, they’ve got a lot of viewers looking at these events, a lot of potential viewers looking at these events now. The only event I see right now that could really fill the shoes of PRIDE is One FC and so, you know, it’s yet to be seen as to whether that will occur but I think they have the most potential to do that and certainly with the people that they have involved right now they’re on the path to doing that.

“They’re not going to try to do it in one event. They’ve got lots of events planned all over Asia and there’s a lot of stars that in Asia that didn’t fight in PRIDE and they’re not going to just go to Japan and try to get big in Japan. They’ve got plans for other countries and these are probably things that Victor can tell you a lot more about. They’ve got Thai boxers fighting on these cards, they got champions from the Philippines, they’ve got lots of potential stars in a lot of places in Asia that have huge followings in their own countries…

“We could potentially see an even bigger market for these One FC events that there ever was for PRIDE.”

The Japanese market right now is crippled on many fronts. Plus, the yakuza has a terrible track record of promoting fight events in other countries on their own accord (without help) because they tend to do things ‘the Japanese way’ and won’t adapt to the business practices of other countries.

In other parts of Asia, there’s plenty of space to develop and produce successful events if you have a clue and you have the money to pull it off. That’s where Matt thinks One FC is going to be successful as a promotion.

“Worldwide, there’s certainly room to develop an organization. In the United States, Zuffa’s got it locked down very well. Obviously, the Strikeforces and companies like they now own, the companies that had a chance to move up there but who knows whether those companies would have or not. Zuffa’s the one that is doing right, they’re the ones that are making the numbers. But worldwide, certainly there is room.

“Obviously, there was PRIDE. PRIDE was doing well and K-1 was doing well in the past and there’s a lot of reasons currently why they’re not. Those people, those Asian MMA fans are still there and with the right promotion, you know, there’s a huge base all throughout Asia that could even be a bigger base than there is in the United States. Zuffa definitely could move into those areas but, you know, there’s still an open market for other people as well.

“All the fans are still there and, you know, it’s not… there’s a lot of issues, you know, the tsunami but there were more issues with just things going on in business that kind of put a damper on things. Japan’s a very conservative place and the things that went on business-wise over there, some of the scandals and things like that, alongside of the sale of PRIDE and alongside of the tsunami & earthquakes and all those things, people just have other things on their mind that are more important right now. But those fans are still there and those fans will come back. They just have to be given the right reasons to do it and certainly any time that DREAM or an organization over there that has the backing of the broadcasters and comes forward in a responsible manner that the fans want to get behind, those fans will all be back. So, I think, you know, it’s a cycle right now, it’s a down cycle and like I said there’s more important things on their mind right now over in Japan. But those fans will be back as soon as an organization steps up and gives them a reason to be.”

Obviously, Matt’s bread is often buttered in Japan, so I wouldn’t expect him to say anything different about the Japanese MMA landscape there. However, as recently demonstrated on multiple levels, the days of Japan being automatically crowned as the leader of Asian MMA are in serious question. When I did a radio interview with Jordan Breen a couple of months ago to discuss the future of Japanese MMA, one of the big points raised is how everyone assumes that Japan is always going to be the leader in Asia for producing high-level MMA events. Jordan & I both agreed that this is a misleading notion and that promotions like One FC are the future for the Asian MMA landscape.

Saturday night is a chance for a major non-Japanese MMA player to develop and see how much growth there truly is throughout Asia for Mixed Martial Arts.

Topics: Japan, MMA, Media, Zach Arnold | 15 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

15 Responses to “Will One FC shift Asian MMA away from being Japanese-centric?”

  1. Chris27 says:

    I dont understand why some dont like UFC being the top org?

    You say in the article people you knew years ago arent into the sport now cause its all UFc.

    Like thats a bad thing?

    Maybe its me but I’d rather know who the best fighter in the world is, I’d rather see the best vs the best.

    I dont want to sit and say, who is the best LW? Is it Edgar, is it Gilbert? Is it Eddie? Oh we will never know cause they dont fight for the same org.

    Now Gilbert can fight Edgar and Maynard etc. Diaz vs GSP, having the top talent split between many orgs makes the sport worse, anyone who left mma cause the sport is now unified under one org wasnt really a fan to begin with.

    And this org, i cant say I care much about it, they have nobody, some champs in boxing or disciplines, guys I never even heard of who arent even mma fighters, it might do well in Asia but its not really a big deal in the overall mma landscape to me, they have no fighters, the guys on that card, not a single one of them is a real top mma fighter.

    Pride actually had top mma fighters.

    • Light23 says:

      I don’t understand either why people don’t like the UFC. The one thing I hated was the production, but that’s changing soon (no more gladiator man!!).

      It’s somewhat formulaic, but I can’t see what more you could ask for than the best fighters in one organisation, great matchmaking, and champions fighting legit #1 contenders every 6 months.

      I’m still somewhat interested in having another large MMA promotion, but they’d need to have a distinctly different flavour than the UFC.

      In all honesty, I think the UFC is the best bet for turning this thing into a global phenomenon, aside from whatever issues they might have in Asia.

    • mmalogic says:

      because those people are prowrestling fans. They are not real sports fans.

      These are the same people defending every 2 bit org by saying \”it\’s not about the UFC or the organization\” it\’s about the fighters and the fights.

      And then they come back saying they dont like MMA anymore because the fights are happening in the UFC. So what happened to it not being about the organizations and only about the fights and fighters?

  2. 45 Huddle says:

    What happens in Asia stays in Asia. Their entertainment is not portable like American and European entertainment and sports are….

  3. david m says:

    I hope for the sake of the fighters that a legit number 2 org develops in Asia, but it is far too early to assess whether this will succeed.

  4. Ken Foss says:

    Personally, I think they’ll be more successful than most think they’ll be, but less successful than they think they will be.

    One FC, and Legends FC for that matter, are going to be players in their regions because they’re tapping a previously untapped area of the globe. In terms of MMA.

    I expect them both to be about as regionally successful as EFC Africa has been if they keep their expectations in check. Which is good for MMA, if not good for “PRIDE Never Die” faithful.

  5. Dave says:

    My favorite part of this article is the FO faithful comment crew going, “but why don’t people unconditionally love the UFC?”

    I’m not sure how I feel about One FC at this point. Their promotion right now seems to be putting up articles on websites that allow fans to post articles, these articles read like overhyped PR pieces and then they say, “look at what the American media is saying about us!”

    On top of that they are making ludicrous claims like One FC will be seen by 500 million people. That is how many homes your networks are on, not how many people will tune in.

    The whole “we are the next PRIDE” attitude is a bit weird, considering PRIDE was built on the backs of fighters who were already national celebrities in Japan and around the world, while One FC is using a lot of local guys that even local fans won’t be that familiar with.

    • Zach Arnold says:

      I largely agree with your sentiments.

      I think the reason this group is getting a lot of projection/hope from fans is that it’s the first potential major player in Asia (not the States) to rise since PRIDE’s death. DREAM was launched but the hype died very quickly.

      I suspect that this group will do decently because they are modeled much like Strikeforce was (SF had AKA for talent/booking, One FC has Evolve). I think the buzz with One FC has more to do with the buzz surrounding all the cash flowing into the Evolve gym system.

      • Dave says:

        I think they have the money to keep going for a while, and they have government support in Singapore to run events and try to make Singapore a more sought after place to work and visit.

        I agree that there is more buzz about Evolve MMA and their involvement in One FC than One FC itself. One FC is so far just a highlight of Evolve’s team, although Yodchatri who runs Evolve has stated that he and Evolve are not involved in One FC’s business at all.

  6. Nepal says:

    I just can’t imagine how they think they can be successful in Hong Kong, Singapore or Thailand. Nobody in Thailand has ever heard of MMA. HK and Singapore are very small places, around 5 to 7 million people. There is going to be very very little local interest in MMA and even people that care are going to be from Japan or Korea or Australia. Can’t imagine thousands of foreigners will come to watch MMA in these cities.

    • Zach Arnold says:

      Singapore’s a regional media hub and it’s a place where if you can obtain success, you can spin it quickly and try to get into other markets.

      • Nepal says:

        Singapore is a unique market unto itself. What happens there has zero relation to anywhere else in Asia. It is a small city/country. There is zero fan base to draw upon there or elsewhere nearby. What other markets are there? Malaysia, zero point zero interest in MMA, not even in martial arts in general. Indonesia, the same. Thailand has Muay Thai as its national sport but again, nobody in Thailand has ever heard of MMA. You only see old repeats of UFC or WEC on the late night/high channels.

        I just can’t fathom how anybody thinks they could make MMA work in Asia. Japan has a culture that values fighting and warriors and winning and losing and dying but nowhere else has that. Korea has a good MMA following but it still pales compared to their interest in K1.

        Without Japan, the whole Asia thing is just smoke. Maybe a lot of investors don’t understand this and think they can make it work. Good luck, I hope they can but my money isn’t on them.

        Actually maybe the Philippines could have a strong interest in MMA, they seem to be really interested in fighting but that is a very poor country. Huge population but very small percentage with any money. TUF could work in Philippines possibly.

  7. mmalogic says:

    You act like the “hardocre pride never die” mma fan matters in the grand scheme of things. They made absolutely no difference for pride or their demise. Affliction, or any org they could label their savior from the UFC. Somehow now they are going to make a difference for one fc?

    Those fans mean absolutely nothing.

    Having said that. Asia is the only remaining frontier so it is smart of them to be focusing there. The problem is they are a few years too late. Zuffa is gearing up to make 2 major announcements regarding distribution in Asia.

    If they had started a few years ago they would have had a much better chance of being a factor.

  8. Matt James says:

    I don’t understand the negativity.

    Twenty years ago no-one in the US knew what MMA was and then the UFC came along and now lots of people are fans.

    Asia (outside of Japan) is just like the US 20 years ago and One FC is looking to do exactly what the UFC did. What’s not to like about that?

    People are saying that One FC won’t succeed in Thailand because no-one there likes MMA but you could have said exactly the same thing about the US 20 years ago and look what has happened there?

    If One FC does succeed in creating MMA fans in all these new countries then they will have done a great service for the sport and in the process they are giving great exposure to fighters from places like the Philippines and Hong Kong.

    What’s not to like?

  9. [...] not here to cheerlead for the current MMA landscape in Japan. I’ve made my thoughts very clear about what’s wrong in Japan and what needs to change. However, I’ll be damned if I’m going to sit here and watch a [...]

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