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One Championship plans 80 shows, big roster expansion in ’20

June 19, 2019

One Championship plans to stage about 80 martial arts shows in 2020, and the MMA promotion will roughly double its roster of fighters to do it.

One CEO Chatri Sityodtong revealed his latest plans for ambitious expansion to The Associated Press on Wednesday.

The promotion is putting on 45 events this year in Asia, but will sharply increase its schedule next year. One also will continue to keep its fights freely available to much of the world in response to what Sityodtong describes as a global desire from its broadcasters for more fighting content.

One will still focus on its core Asian markets, but Sityodtong also is in discussions with broadcast partner Turner Sports to stage its first U.S. show next year.

“Definitely a very tough task, but I think it’s very doable, knock on wood,” Sityodtong said of his extraordinary expansion plans. “We’re on this rocket ship, and I’ve just got to hold on.”

By comparison, the UFC has 43 events currently on its 2019 schedule. One’s expansion comes while the UFC is making a push into Asia, including the opening a $13 million performance institute in Shanghai to develop Chinese athletes.

Unlike the UFC, One Championship includes fights in several martial arts disciplines on its cards. One’s shows in 2020 will feature a mix of competitions, but its primary focus is still mixed martial arts — and a whole lot more of it.

“The market can’t get enough,” Sityodtong said, citing his company’s rising viewership figures on broadcast and digital channels. “Our fans can’t get enough of our content, so we’re trying to satiate demand, but every time we put out more content, things just go more viral. A lot of the free-to-air TV broadcasters, the digital broadcasters, they’re all demanding more and more content from us, so we have to provide more and more content to the world.”

One reached a three-year broadcast deal with Turner last year, and is broadcast around the world on over-the-air television channels. Sityodtong sees an opportunity to increase his company’s prominence in the U.S., where the UFC has put much of its fight content on ESPN Plus this year in its lucrative new deal.

Sityodtong describes the UFC as One’s “archrivals,” although the UFC might not see it that way. But where the UFC sees value in exclusivity on ESPN, Sityodtong wants his fights available “everywhere and anywhere at all times.”

″(The UFC’s) approach right now is they’re behind a double paywall on ESPN Plus, which limits their reach,” Sityodtong added. “That partnership is great for both companies and also great for the sport. That being said, it’s a very different strategy from what One Championship is doing. We are focused on maximum distribution, maximum reach, frequency and engagement, and making our product accessible to the entire world. That’s just a philosophical difference.”

Filling out One’s ambitious new schedule will require more fighters, more staff and more events in the promotion’s core markets such as Singapore, Jakarta, Beijing, Bangkok and various venues in the Philippines. Sityodtong expects to stage four fight cards per year in those main markets, but his ambition remains global — and the Harvard Business School graduate wants to plant a flag in North America.

Sityodtong hasn’t revealed a time and place for One’s first U.S. show, but the company is opening offices in Los Angeles and New York this summer. The Singapore-based One already has a corporate presence across Asia from Tokyo to Bangalore, India.

One has signed American fighters Demetrious Johnson, Eddie Alvarez and Sage Northcutt in recent months. Sityodtong is eager to land other non-Asian free agent veterans, but One will stay focused on finding its core talent across Asia.

“We look for athletes that we can appreciate and admire for their mastery of martial arts, but also admire their life stories and their values,” Sityodtong said. “That’s very important, and I think that’s the biggest differentiating factor for One Championship versus our global competitor in the West.”

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