ONE MMA Summit 2013: Changing the Game


ONE Fighting Championship hosted its second Asia MMA Summit at the Marina Bay Sands, with some 400 delegates from the ONE FC Network in the room.

From gyms, promotions, sponsors and media groups, the three-day event has been designed to educate, network, communicate and grow the sport of MMA in Asia.

The event officially kicked off on Thursday evening, 2 May, with a cocktail reception for the delegates.

ONE FC CEO Victor Cui’s welcoming speech was a short and sweet affair to thank everyone for coming and to say how proud he was of what the Network had accomplished so far. Rich Franklin was in the house and revealed as the special guest speaker.

The remainder of the night Renzo Gracie, Roger Huerta, and Dave Menne spent their fair share of time in front of cameras with fans.

The second day of the Summit kicked off at 10 am and as the conference room was filling up, more chairs had to be added to accommodate everyone.

The Keynote Speech

Victor took the stage and in his key note speech discussed what exactly defines ONEFC’s “90% market share of MMA in Asia” by outlining the facts: 250 fighters signed exclusively to ONE FC – which includes many of the top fighters in Asia, another 2,000 fighters through the gyms in the Network – plus a list of sponsors greater than any other Asia-based promotion currently operating in Asia, the largest media rights distribution in the world of any Asian MMA promotion, and the biggest gate and ticket sales.

Through this, Victor discussed the concepts of ‘winning’ and ‘together’. “Winning means we all rise together”, he stated, and as such more media will begin to cover the sport. Then Cui clarified his second concept. “Together means sometimes you have to put away your own skillsets and ego to work together to accomplish something great”. He announced that there is a Disney deal in the pipeline that can’t be revealed quite yet, and mentioned that ONE FC’s seven investors are all power players, millionaires, with two being billionaires. “No one would have believed what we have accomplished in Malaysia a year ago”, he emphatically commented, “We are working together like other sports don’t understand.” Cui finalized his speech by explaining that the media groups were here to “tell you how you can get on the front page”, and the sponsors attending “want to listen to you. These are all experts who want to share their knowledge with you.”

A Legend Speaks

Renzo Gracie delivered a keynote speech on “the global duopoly of MMA”. Renzo started out by talking about his early life and how it brought him around to Asia, “I believed that all the martial arts that we knew came from Asia.” He spoke about his much-covered fighting life in the days when Japan was the biggest market on the planet for MMA. “When UFC bought PRIDE,” Renzo laments, “It was one of the saddest days of my life. MMA deserved to be in this part of the world.” Then his permagrin returned as he came back around to ONE FC, and his infectious humor resurfaced. Paraphrasing his inspirational ending:

“When I saw Victor so passionate about this, I was excited. I had to be here. It’s like a family business you know. Last week I was at the UFC because I had a fighter there, and I didn’t want to be there. It’s lost its soul; its a business. In this sport, you get your nose broke, your eye swells shut and you can’t see, you can barely formulate a thought, and you’re trying to tell the ref you can fight! But you watch soccer and half the time they’re laying down. We are part of a tribe, you give blood and sweat to improve yourself and your brothers next to you. It’s the Asian way. I see the passion in the people here. I believe that one day my son will be fighting here. That’s the future I see”

A Special Guest Takes the Podium

Rich Franklin followed Renzo and joked about how he was sorry to do so. Rich’s topic of discussion was personal: fighting to be a world champion. He started out in traditional Okinawan karate. When he saw UFC 1, the groundfighting challenged his notion of martial arts. Looking at Renzo, he chastised,”It was your family, totally messing things up for the way we thought about martial arts.” After talking about how he progressed to become a full time fighter and then win a championship belt, Rich stated what he felt about Asia, “When I see the talent and the instructors in Asia, I see how much potential there is.” Rich said he told the story about how he turned into a fighter because people need to hear what it took, as both inspiration and cause for introspection. He ended by exclaiming, “When I see what is the response to this Summit, I can’t belive how much potential there is, how high the ceiling is – if there even is one.”

Tune’s Big Talk

Jason Lo, rock star turned Tune Talk business star, gave an extremely hilarious presentation (punctuated by slideshows of ring girls) about riding the MMA wave through sponsorship. He quipped, “Air Asia’s head Tony Fernandez said ‘I want you to start my telecommunications company’. I said ‘I don’t know anything about telecommunications’. Tony said, ‘I didn’t know anything about planes'”. Jason stated that Tune Talk promotes a lot of concerts and tries to build the music scene in Malaysia. “We like to link ourselves up with what’s cool,” he explained, “As soon as I watched ONE FC, I wanted to talk to Vic.” He went on to further discuss Malaysian Invasion MMA, the first ever massive amateur MMA competition in Malaysia, and talked about why he got involved. “What’s great about this is the brand building. But first we needed to step back and start from the ground. We will be on Star Sports in May so everyone can see what were doing.” Jason said he stays eager to be heavily involved with ONE FC: “The numbers we got back from our first ONE FC were tremendous.” When asked if he got any flack for the “Now anyone can fight” slogan, Jason replied, “Safety is our first priority”, and then ended with the impact MIMMA has made, “A thousand fighters and a reach of half million people have been touched by MMA through this.”

The Synergy of Sponsorship

Mark Cooke of Motor Trader magazine spoke about why he got involved in sponsoring MMA, specifically through the Muayfit gym and team. “The demographic match up is perfect”, Mark explained. “Mainstream media back in the UK is negative, they just call it ‘cage fighting’. When we came over to Malaysia, the press coverage was so positive. I’ve been a fan so this was amazing.” He also stated that the feedback from sponsorship has been staggering, “We reached about 4 million Malaysians with our ticket give aways with our ONE FC promotion. We had more people try to get the ONE FC tickets than who tired to get the tickets we gave away for the English Premier League!”

Richard Lee of Sepang International Circuit echoed Mark’s sentiments about demographics and similar concepts. He also stated he understands the length of time needed now to make it an international phenomenom in Malaysia: “We have to do everything within 15 years in Malaysia when we bring this is in,” Richard stated, then added a surprise thought, “Let’s combine two of the biggest sports in Asia and make a powerhouse. I have a vision to step up a level and have these two events on the same weekend. On the same day.” Richard also said he thinks that these sports are positive and strong influences for kids and why MMA will explode,”Asian kids want to be fighters. They want to be drivers also, but the infrastructure is not here, but it is there for MMA.”

Steve Dawson – Moderator Extraordinaire

Is MMA going mainstream?

Marc Raimondi of the New York Times spoke on the subject of MMA in the mainstream media.

“What’s happened in Asia with MMA is amazing,” he said, before getting into the subject.

He said that in the west, MMA doesn’t get much MMA coverage in the mainstream media at all, and explained why. “The editor’s are an older generation who didn’t grow up with MMA,” Marc he states.

“But as the generation who did grow up with it get into those positions, it will all change.” He explained how to get more coverage in mainstream media, which reaches so many more people than sport-specific outlets, is through back stories on the athletes. Marc finalized by a poignant but humorous statement, “Newspapers are still the mainstream media, but the good news is that they are dying.”

Greg Savage of Sherdog and John Keefer of CraveOnline held a discussion on Marc’s topic, specifically perception of the mainstream media of MMA. Both of them held the consensus that in the west, it has been a losing battle.

The ‘up’ side was that Sherdog succeeded in becoming the largest internet portal for MMA, and that the diverse amount of content-specific media outlets means more people are getting news from other sources.

The Digital Age: A Forecast

John Vamvakitis from the YouTube Sports division gave a presentation on how his company can effectivly help sports grow from within their own framework, and gave some statistics on the future of media. He said that engaging in media on the mobile platform trend is growing, and that it continues to grow more rapidly than anything seen before. John also shared that video viewing now extends through prime time which was long dominated by television and other events.

The reason he stated was that fans want to be much more engaged, through discussion and interaction. Another powerful reason John said YouTube is highly relevant for a user to grow is through ‘sharing’. One of his biggest statistics, and the one he was asked to restate at the end of his discussion, is that 90% of all media traffic will be video in the future.

Peter Hutton Managing Director of Fox Sports and Leonard Asper of Fight Network held a panel on the growing demand by broadcasters for sports and MMA programming. Leonard said that his combat sports-exclusive channel was a natural occurence given all the content-specific channels that have developed. He said the company is also based around the traits of the martial arts such as loyalty, respect, and integrity.

A break out discussion was held with ONE FC PR guru Loren Mack.  The panelists discussing trends in journalism for a surprisingly large group of interested people were James Goyder, Wesley DeSouza, and MMA-in-ASIA’s own Editor Lee Li.  The topics covered spanned the range from what differentiates blogger from journalist, how to succeed, what makes a journalist, where to find sources, and  how broad the market really is.

MMA in Asia – Very Big

Chatri Sityodtong, Founder of Evolve MMA and most recently Evolve University, rounded out the informational discussions with a talk on the development of MMA in Asia. He cautioned that although the unprecedented popularity is a huge upswing, there will be good and bad along the way.

By using a story about a princess who was saved by a courageous bodyguard, he advised everyone to fight through the good and bad t obtain success. Chatri enthusiastically stated, “This is the Asian MMA century. Martial arts is coming back to Asia.”

He then gave an interesting presentation on how to capitalize upon it through the concept of ‘Ecosystem’, which means unity, integrity, professionalism, and innovation. Chatri sees that in the future it will be east versus west in the MMA world just as it is across the corporate world.

Bruce Lee Celebrated

The guest speakers for the summit were Bruce Lee’s siblings, Robert and Phoebe Lee. They thoroughly engaged the audience with their stories and insights to the legend, long professed the father of MMA. Robert said that his brother would get fancy tailored clothes, which made the other school boys jealous, so they bullied him, and that’s how he got into martial arts. Phoebe said that he would fight with others on rooftops and that even the police knew of him. Hi nickname then was ‘King Gorilla’. Phoebe said her brother bossed her around because she was like him and had hot temper. She said even at yum cha he was fidgety and from an early age would practice his phoenix eye training for his knuckle on the table. She talked about how Bruce corrected he wing chun, and that he was a sleepwalker. An unexpected highlight was when Robert invited up Heath Sims and Bashir Ahmad for an impromptu demonstration on Bruce Lee’s theory of reaction time.

The afternoon concluded with a huge round of applause for the Lee family and everyone rushing to get a picture. The legend of Bruce Lee lives on strong in Asian MMA today.

The Final Day

In the opening panel discussion on the morning of the final day, Bubbles Aguilar, Co-Founder of the URCC, and Niko Han of Synergy MMA held a panel to why Asian MMA is going to be the new super power. The talk surrounded specifically the benefits that the ONE FC Network has already begun to produce. Bubbles stated that the access to media is extremely high in the Philippines for URCC.

They are able to have more foreign fighters enter the promotion and the URCC champions are getting noticed on a larger platform. She also stated that more sponsors have been noticing MMA because of this media splurge. When the panel as opened up for questions, the amateur MMA topic was brought up.

Bubbles explained that the URCC started amateur MMA at the college level in 2006. While there was a lapse of tournaments for a short while due to various reasons, she announced plans to continue on a nationwide level.

Niko has been a forerunner of MMA in Indonesia. His impression of MMA now is that it has huge potential never seen before.

Because it is becoming more mainstream, Niko said that he finds that sponsors are more willing to put money into it. On the topic of amateur MMA, he said there are now quite a few events around Jakarta, proving the new interest and growth in the sport.

Victor Cui stood up and said to the audience “It’s hard to get these guys together, so take advantage of this and ask questions.” One of those was “What advice will you give to people coming up in the MMA industry now?”

Bubbles advised, “Don’t look at it as a business, do what the athletes want. The revenue will come.”

She also pointed out that endeavors should be aligned with sponsors who don’t see MMA solely on a revenue basis, which includes picking those who have long term thinking, not just doing one-off events. Niko agreed.

“Make sure we look at this as long term. Have rules and regulations, the priority is the safety of the fighters.” He also advised finding sponsors that have a long term view.

ROAD FC CEO Jung Moon Hong entered the panel at the end citing a headache. His translator gave a somewhat overly curt translation that boiled down to him attending the event solely out of his friendship with Victor.

“I love Victor,” he proclaimed to an audience simply happy to see him in person.

Learn From the Past

Joel Gold, founder of Full Contact Fighter, delivered a rousing discussion on his own experiences in building a company at the inception of MMA.  “I smell opportunity here in Asia, the same as in the US in the ’90s. This is history, how often do we get to be in the beginnings of a sport. Now its your turn,” he urged the audience. He continued by advising that you have to first and foremost love the sport.

“Don’t think about the money. It’s a full time, seven days a week job – I did it for ten years with no vacation. It didn’t matter that we didn’t sleep, We loved what we do. We were building something.”

When he spoke about starting his print publication, Joel joked, “I am the last guy who should be running a publication.”  But he gave some advice from his own experience.

“Think of an interview as a conversation,” he shared, ” They won’t be guarded and you’ll be surprised at what you get out of them.”

Over all, Joel said that in order to succeed you must have a good foundation, respect, and love what you do.  In sponsorships or any dealings, make fair deals where both sides get something.

“I want to be creative, so should you. Ask questions you want to know. Don’t copy, do your own thing.”  Joel ended with an inspirational comment, “You guys are lucky, there’s already a blueprint, adapt it for the market here. But don’t leave money on the table, do business on both sides, East and West.”

Matt Hume: The Formula

Victor Cui brought Matt Hume to the stage and introduced him with honor, “He has done so much for the sport. I’m the President of the Matt Hume fan club.” Last year Matt discussed MMA development, and now Victor asked him what would be the follow up to that information-packed talk.

Matt opened with a funny story about how Joel saw him after a knee surgery, and gave him a Full Contact Fighter sock – talk about constant marketing. Matt then proceeded to expound upon how Demitrious Johnson entered his gym knowing nothing, stayed under his tutelage completely, and eventually ascended to winning a championship. He then outlined his complete training formula in order to do so.

One interesting style of it is “Dutch Crossfight Kickboxing”, which he explained as a Dutch style that combines western boxing with kickboxing to develop balance and recovery for repeated striking. Matt explained why his system is successful, “Finishing fights adds value. Working through these steps will make you a finisher.”

Matt then began to speak about the Fighter Development Program that ONE FC has initiated for its Network affiliates. It will involve short- and long-term coach placement, trainer and fighter exchange programs, Network gyms cross-training, sparring, and smokers. As gyms identify gaps, within the network this program can bridge those gaps by bringing cross-training.

On the subject of the future amateur program, Victor said that every country is on a different level. He then expressed that MIMMA is a positive and proactive example of what came out of the last summit with amateur talk and sponsorship.

Matt said he developed one of the oldest amateur events in the world and is now willing to share the blueprint. On the subject of safety and the generally fewer educated officials in Asia, Matt explained a few certain steps amateur events can take involving referees, specifically learning catch calls and having a sub ref.

In probably what could be considered one of the most poignant and promise-filled ending statements, Matt summed up the entire event.

“Pride became great because it had a network behind them. Were doing the same thing in ONE FC.”