ONE to strengthen foothold in Asia
MMA promotion to hold more events in China and aims to break into Japan and South Korea
Singapore-based mixed martial arts (MMA) promoter ONE Championship is set to have a landmark season in 2017.
From just one event in its inaugural season in 2011, ONE will have at least 18 events next year across nine countries - an all-time high for the organiser.
The Asia-focused organisation is strengthening its foothold in China with at least five events, and is likely to break into Japan and South Korea, where both countries have strong histories in martial arts.
While the more-established Ultimate Fighting Championship has tried and failed to make inroads in China, ONE has been slowly chipping away at the Asian giants, with one event in 2014 and three this year.
Its expansion in China next year is no doubt aided by a reported eight-figure investment by Temasek Holdings subsidiary Heliconia Capital Management, announced in July this year, with the investor also helping to open doors for ONE in the Chinese market.
I have never been to Korea before; but my mum (Jewelz) is Korean and I am half-Korean. It just makes sense, you know?ONE Championship’s Angela Lee, on fighting in South Korea next year
"We can easily have 12 events in six different cities in China," ONE chief executive Victor Cui told The New Paper yesterday.
"It could be (big) cities such as Shanghai, Beijing or Guangzhou, or even smaller ones like Shenzhen, Chengdu or even Hainan (Island)."
Japan, described by Cui as a "mecca" in Asian MMA because of its long history in martial art, is a major frontier for ONE, along with South Korea.
To that end, ONE announced last month the appointment of Yoshiaki Ito as its president in Japan.
"We are 100 per cent committed in Japan and South Korea, which was why we appointed Yoshiaki, who is a big hitter and a business celebrity in Japan," Cui said of the Japanese national, formerly the CEO of Haier Asia Group.
"As we become more focused on Asia, it is just natural for us to look at Japan.
"Interest there is at an all-time high and they have fighters such as Shinya Aoki, so we think it's the right time to go in."
Atomweight world champion Angela Lee said she is excited at the prospect of having a ONE event in South Korea.
Asked if she had a favoured destination in the expanded calendar next year, the 20-year-old said: "Yes, yes, Korea. I would love to fight in Korea.
"I have never been to Korea before; but my mum (Jewelz) is Korean and I am half-Korean.
"It just makes sense, you know?"
The Canadian-American of Singaporean and Korean descent is eager to get back into the ring again, with her last fight coming in May at the Indoor Stadium, where she beat Japan's Mei Yamaguchi to win the world title.
Yesterday, Cui all but confirmed that Lee will defend her title at the Indoor Stadium on May 26 next year.
"Absolutely. If she stays fit and is free from injury, that would be absolutely spectacular," he said.