By Zach Arnold | August 30, 2011
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.
- Organized crime may have taken a financial beating in certain areas, but they are surging in other sectors leading to the kind of corruption that eats at the core of long-term business practices.
- The recovery from the bad earthquakes and tsunami that damaged Tohoku is going to take many years to recover from. Fukushima as an area is now known as a ‘dead zone’ the same way people talk about Chernobyl.
- Sumo match fixing scandals have cast a pall on the entire combat sports sector in the eyes of many Japanese mainstream sports fans. Fans who used to go to wrestling, boxing, MMA, and Sumo fights were never looked down upon. However, they are now. Fans are looked upon as naive & dumb in a similar fashion to how the American public has long looked at wrestling fans as lower-class troglodytes.
Combine all of the factors noted up above with the previous societal problems Japan has been facing:
- The rise of China as the global economic power that it is today
- A lack of good MMA training gyms to produce talent. Japan’s MMA boom period was heavily reliant on the use of pro-wrestlers. Old-school pro-wrestling gyms featured guys doing all kinds of ’shoot’ drills with the doors closed. That atmosphere is gone.
- A substantial population drop-off coming due to lack of children being born (raising the ugly issue of immigration in the country
- Soil-over-everything preferences when it comes to who is favored and who isn’t in the market place (call this the Yushin Okami principle, as he became a ’star’ outside of Japan and therefore is viewed as unimportant by most Japanese fans)
- Television networks that do not want to get involved in the fight game because of the amount of yakuza involvement (plus the PRIDE scandal)
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:
- “If you look at the past decade, there’s no sport that could be more mainstream than the UFC.”
- “They’re the experts in matchmaking.”
- On why Fox agreed to let UFC produce their shows — “I’m a fan that happens to be in business with them on the non-PPV side.”
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:
- 125 pounds: Radeem Rahman (Evolve MMA) vs. Susovan Ghosh (karate)
- Bantamweights: Soo Chul Kim vs. Leandro Issa (Evolve MMA)
- Lightweights: Vuyisile Colossa (muay thai) vs. Ma Xing Yu (sanda)
- Bantamweights: Daniel Mashamaite vs. Yodsanan Sityodtong (Evolve MMA/WBA boxing champion)
- 160 pounds: Eddie Ng (Evolve MMA) vs. Yuan Chun Bo (sanda)
- Lightweights: A Sol Kwon (Heat FC) vs. Eduard Folayang (MC FC)
- Welterweights: Phil Baroni vs. Yoshiyuki Yoshida
- Featherweights: Mitch Chilson (Evolve MMA) vs. Eric Kelly (URCC)
- Welterweights: Gregor Gracie vs. Seok Mo Kim
- Lightweights: Andy Wang (Grappling Unlimited) vs. Zorobabel Moreira (Evolve MMA)
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.
- Three 5-minute rounds in a cage.
- Knees on the ground to a down opponent allowed.
- Elbow standing and on the ground allowed.
- Stomping to the body allowed but not stomping to the head.
- Icon/Superbrawl Hawaii rules in regards to soccer kicks. If you knock someone down and they aren’t defending themselves, no soccer ball kick. If you knock someone to the ground and they are defending themselves, you can use a soccer ball kick as soon as the referee says you can do so.
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.