Led by Chatri Sityodtong, ONE Championship makes its United States debut this Friday.
Airing on Amazon’s Prime Video streaming service, the ONE Fight Night 10 card holds the potential to make a significant impact in the North American fight scene. For Sityodtong, who is ONE CEO, this represents an integral part of the plan to become the most dominant sports brand in the world.
“I want to build the most iconic global sports property on the planet,” says Sityodtong. “We’re here for global domination–that’s my ambition. This was never intended to be solely in Asia. We’re going to have events across Asia, Europe, and North America. It is important to start strong in America. The U.S. is the world’s largest economy, and it is the world’s largest sports market.”
ONE is delivering a spectacular card Friday at a sold-out 1stBank Center in Colorado. Headlined by the Demetrious Johnson–Adriano Moraes trilogy bout, it also features Muay Thai sensation Rodtang Jitmuangnon, Sage Northcutt, Roberto Soldić, and flyweight submission grappler Mikey Musumeci. It will highlight a wide range of emerging stars from several martial arts, which is the backbone of ONE.
“The American market is ripe for something completely different and completely new,” says Sityodtong. “Our production value is going to blow people away, and so will our martial arts. Nothing like ONE exists in the current market in America. I’m kicking myself—I should have booked a 20,000-seat stadium [for the card Friday]. I didn’t appreciate the depth and breadth of our U.S. fan base. ONE is very nascent here in the U.S., so that’s why I was surprised, but I am very grateful for our U.S. fans.”
While UFC stands alone as a juggernaut in the United States, Sityodtong believes ONE will resonate with fight fans in the states.
“Across all metrics, the UFC is the giant in the West, we’re the giant in the East,” says Sityodtong. “I have a lot of respect for UFC. They built a huge brand in America, and they’ve done a phenomenal job. We are 180 degrees opposite in our approach. Our finish rate is 70 percent. The 10-point must system allows for a hide-and-seek game. It should be about damage. This is true martial arts.”
The 52-year-old Sityodtong is defined by his grit and resilience. His father went bankrupt and deserted the family when he was only a child, leaving himself, his mother, and brother to fend for themselves. But that only strengthened the drive for a man whose first name translates to “Warrior.”
Sityodtong seized every opportunity he could, which led his attending Harvard University in pursuit of his MBA. He brought his mother with him to the school in Cambridge, Mass., and unbeknownst to the college administrators, he shared his dorm room with her.
“I stayed on the floor of a tiny little single in Morris Hall,” says Sityodtong. “We had to play musical chairs with the key card during the day when I was in class.”
Sityodtong recently moved his mother into his house. He is honored to give back to her after the manner in which she bravely raised him and his younger brother.
“Her unconditional love gave me a lot of courage in life,” says Sityodtong. “My mother would say, ‘Chatri, you’re going to grow up and help people.’ Words have an impact on kids, and her words impacted me. Equally important was my martial arts background. I didn’t realize it as a child, but it forges in you this unbreakable warrior spirit. Whenever I face adversity, even now, there is no thought that I’ll break or yield.”
That warrior spirit was instilled in Sityodtong by his father. Though their relationship did not span the number of years he would have preferred, Sityodtong still holds fond memories of time spent with his father.
“My father ignited my passion for Muay Thai,” says Sityodtong. “When I was nine, he brought me to Lumpinee Stadium, the mecca of Muay Thai. When I was 13, he took me to my first training session. If he hadn’t done that, there would be no ONE today. He introduced me to my greatest passion in life. Who knows what I would have done otherwise, so I’m forever grateful.”
In 2015, after decades of anger, Sityodtong reached out to relatives in Thailand and tracked down his father for a long overdue visit.
“I don’t know what propelled me, but I had to do it,” says Sityodtong. “I wanted to ask why he abandoned us, I wanted to let go of my anger, and I wanted him to let go of his guilt. He was old, frail and broke. We made small steps toward conciliation, but he passed away shortly after. We didn’t have time to heal the relationship, but that closure gave me a lot of gratitude. If we look at the good, we’ll remember the good. If we focus on the bad, we’ll focus on the bad. Rather than look at the negative, I began to look at all the positives. He gave me my name, which is ‘Warrior,’ and that was a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
ONE has a bright future under Sityodtong’s leadership. He was the driving force in the five-year broadcast deal with Prime Video, which plays a key role in ONE’s global expansion. His focus is now centered on creating new superstars in North America through an approach where MMA is not solely about the fighting, but also the journey.
“We’re trying to build something epic, something history-making,” says Sityodtong. “The Amazon partnership has just gotten started. I see this partnership growing exponentially all over the world.
“It’s the right time and the right place. People are going to be electrified when they tune in on prime time this Friday night.”