ONE FC's Victor Cui on Creating an Asian MMA Empire
Victor Cui is a man on a mission. In the space of two years, the Filipino Canadian has taken ONE FC from the concept stage to the point where his Singapore-based promotion has become the dominant force in Asian MMA.
Under Cui’s custody ONE FC has put on events in Singapore, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur and Manila so far and he says that plans are afoot to be in even more markets in Asia by the end of the year.
“Our next event is ONE FC: Rise to Power at the SM Mall of Asia Arena in Manila on May 31 and it is selling out fast. There are 20,000 seats in the arena and I have no doubt that we will fill every one of them,” he said. “There is so much demand for live events in the countries that we have already been to that we will definitely be going back to Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta, and ONE FC is also headed to Taipei, Seoul and Hong Kong.”
ONE FC’s ability to put bums on seats has been perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the Singapore headquartered organization’s rapid ascension with the eight shows to date averaging attendances of around 9,000. It’s a particularly impressive statistic when you bear in mind countries like Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia had never previously played host to anything other than small-scale MMA events.
Cui is not content to merely consolidate his company’s powerbase in these existing countries. He is constantly looking at ways ONE FC can evolve and expand. The most recent development saw the live shows shifted from Saturday night to Friday night in order for them to be broadcast live across Asia for the first time.
ONE FC: Kings & Champions took place at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on April 5 and featured Shinya Aoki and Melvin Manhoef. It was the first ONE FC event to be televised live and Cui says that overwhelming public demand persuaded Star Sports to start showing the fights as they happen,
“We have a unprecedented ten-year deal with Star Sports to be broadcast live in 28 countries across Asia. Star Sports is the number one brand in sports broadcasting in Asia and being live on Friday nights, which is one of the most in demand timeslots, reflects the amount of viewers we are getting,” he said.
The only other promotion on the planet with a proven track record of selling out large stadiums and arenas across multiple territories is the UFC. This comparison is not lost on of Cui, who believes the MMA world is in the midst of a global division along geographic lines.
“I think 2013 will be remembered as the emergence of a global duopoly of East versus West. You’ve got UFC as the biggest in the West, ONE FC as the biggest in the East,” he commented. “You see the storyline of East versus West play out in almost every industry you can think of, from Apple versus Samsung, YouTube versus Youku, Twitter versus Weibo to Facebook versus Renren.”
Despite being based on opposite ends of the world, there are some clear similarities between Cui’s organization and the UFC and he is quick to acknowledge them.
“If you compare, UFC has got a 90-percent market share in the States, we’ve got a 90-percent market share in Asia. UFC is 90-percent Caucasian, 10-percent non-Caucasian. We’re 90-percent Asian, 10-percent non-Asian,” he continued. “We’re both filling the biggest stadiums, we've both got the biggest gates, biggest attendances, and we both have a television reach of over 600 million viewers and fantastic blue-chip sponsors on board.”
One key difference between the two organizations is whereas the UFC is fiercely independent Cui works closely with promotions across Asia and beyond and has formed something called the “ONE FC Network.” This inclusive approach was apparent earlier this month when he footed the bill for around 500 people from across the Asian MMA industry to fly to Singapore for a three-day summit.
“I was blown away by the response for the ONE Asia MMA Summit,” said Cui. “We had to turn down gyms and promotions weeks before the event and we turned away more people than we accepted. Our two guest speakers, Renzo Gracie and Rich Franklin, were raving about what we are doing, and Renzo even stated that ONE FC is the best thing that has happened to this sport in a long time. The biggest names in the industry were all present.”
This was the second successive year that the ONE Asia MMA Summit has been held at the Marina Bay Sands Resort in Singapore. Among the developments that have occurred in the intervening months is the introduction of an amateur tournament in Malaysia, which began in February with a field of around 500 aspiring local fighters.
Entitled Malaysian Invasion, this event was bankrolled by Tune Talk, which is a major telecommunications company in Southeast Asia and has invested a significant amount of money in grassroots MMA, as well as sponsoring ONE FC’s most recent card in Kuala Lumpur.
The finals are set for June 15, when champions will be crowned across seven different weight classes and Cui, who helped broker a deal to book Malaysian Invasion a weekly slot on Star Sports, feels that setting up an amateur infrastructure will help to build and develop the ONE FC stars of the future.
“We have exclusive deals with every single developmental league across Asia and the top amateur mixed martial artists will be given the opportunity in ONE FC to showcase their talent on the biggest stage. Through the ONE FC network, we have an exclusive lockdown on all of Asian mixed martial arts with 90 percent of the top Asian fighters under exclusive contracts.”
Asian MMA has been in decline since the demise of Pride FC, but ONE FC has revitalized the scene and the sport is going from strength to strength, even in places with no prior history of competition, such as Malaysia and Singapore. Things are happening fast and even Cui, who has never been shy about making bold predictions, says he hadn’t expected such rapid progress.
“We are way ahead of where I thought we would be at this point,” Cui stated. “The biggest surprise to me is how quickly we’re selling out stadiums and that blue-chip companies have come on board as sponsors. I wasn't expecting that for at least another year.
“We have so much demand for ONE FC shows that it is unbelievable and to keep up with the demand we will be hosting 12 events this year and expanding to 24 in 2014.”