ONE Championship CEO on rise from poverty to global phenomenon

ONE Championship CEO Chatri Sityodtong talks to FOX Sports Asia about his rise from poverty to global phenom.

“The lessons of martial arts, the gifts of martial arts are so precious that I really believe it’s the greatest platform to unleash human potential. That’s what gave me the strength and the courage and allowed me to bring my family out of poverty,” says One Championship CEO Chatri Sityodtong.

From their humble beginnings in a small office headquartered in Singapore, One Championship has grown from strength to strength, becoming one of the world’s biggest martial arts promotions.

Founded in 2011 by chairman and chief executive officer Chatri Sityodtong along with Saurabh Mittal and another University friend, it wasn’t all smooth sailing initially.

“When you talk about martial arts, Asia is the home of martial arts. It has been the home of martial arts for the last 5,000 years. We live, breathe and understand it. We understand the philosophy of it, the spirit of it,” Chatri exclaimed.

“We have experienced such exponential growth,” he added. “ONE Championship is popular because we built this organization with the Asian people in mind. Asia is the birthplace of martial arts, and we felt it was right to showcase all the local talent here to the rest of the world.”

“We’ve been working hard. This is the first time in the history of sports in Asia that you are seeing an Asian-based sport property exporting its content worldwide and the rest of the world wants to watch it,” Sityodtong said with pride.

During the Asian financial crisis in 1997, Sityodtong, his parents and younger brother became homeless and survived on one meal a day. Things got worse as his father went bankrupt and abandoned the family, leaving him with the responsibility to provide for the family.

Undeterred, Sityodtong lived on US$4 a day as he pushed through to earn an MBA from Harvard Business School through a scholarship.

Part-time jobs delivering Chinese food and teaching Muay Thai while juggling school work was a norm for Sityodtong and he subsequently went on to make a name for himself at Silicon Valley, and by the age of 30, he purchased an apartment in New York for his mother along with putting his younger brother through college.

The only thing that kept Sityodtong sane was martial arts. Having trained as a child under the tutelage of Kru Yodtong Senanan in Pattaya, he went on to compete in over 30 professional bouts.

This, he said was the only outlet where he could hold onto something in life.

“It was a very bad time and my future looked very bleak. The only thing I really had at the time was my martial arts training – the mental strength, the discipline, the focus, the courage, the desire for continuous self-improvement. Most importantly, an unbreakable will, a warrior spirit to conquer adversity in life,” Sityodtong shared.

As One Championship continues their strategy of building local homegrown Asian martial arts heroes from the grassroots level, the promotion is bent on venturing into new markets like Vietnam, Japan and South Korea, as well as multiple destinations in mainland china including Shenzhen, Shanghai and Beijing.

“Our vision is to become a part of everyday life for everyone in Asia. I envision a world where everyone in Asia will tune into our events every weekend. There is no reason why it should not happen because Asia has always been the home of martial arts,” he said.

And true to his humble beginnings, Sityodtong refuses to claim the credit for putting Asian martial arts on the world map.

“We didn’t bring martial arts to Asia. Martial arts was already here, it was just waiting to be put on a global stage and that’s what we did. If you’re looking for someone to thank for raising up the sport in the region, thank all the people in history that brought you all the great, ancient martial arts that make up the sport today,” he concluded.