ONE FC: 'Return of Warriors' is only a few days away, but Asia's biggest mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion is already looking ahead to 2014. In an exclusive interview with MMAmania.com in Kuala Lumpur, CEO Victor Cui gave a glimpse into his ambitious plans for the future.
"Our 2013 schedule is virtually complete, there are going to be 12 events and and two more summits so at the moment my focus is on 2014 when there will be 24 ONE FC shows and we are three quarters of the way towards getting those booked. We have events booked in almost every major city in Asia and we’ll be announcing the dates very soon."
The next ONE FC card is set to take place at the Singapore Indoor Stadium on April 5 and will be headlined by Kotetsu Boku vs Shinya Aoki. It will be shown live all over Asia by Star Sports, which broadcasts to 28 countries, and Cui thinks this is an important step forward for his promotion.
"If you think of the most prestigious sporting events in the world, be it Formula One, the English Premier League or the Olympics, they are all shown live on TV and this will be the first time that an Asian MMA event has been broadcast live by a major network all over the continent so it's a really significant moment for the development of the sport here. "
Cui has also been talking to broadcasters outside of Asia and says he has signed a number of deals and has plenty more in the pipeline.
"ONE FC is going to be available on television all over the world from Canada to Cambodia to France to Russia and it is also going to be available in multiple languages so there are going to be commentators talking in Khmer, in French, in Russian, in Behasa Melayu etc."
There are just three days to go until ONE FC's next show which is taking place at the Stadium Putra and will be headlined by a World Featherweight Title bout between Honorio Banario (7-1) and Eric Kelly (9-0). Both are URCC champions with exemplary records and Cui is particularly looking forward to this main event.
"In my opinion these are two of the top featherweights in the region right now, this fight was very difficult to put together, fans have been asking for this fight for a long time and these two guys have a very big fan following. I think what you are going to see is a full on, all-out striking display, both these guys know how to break down their opponent and then finish the fight with a submission but they prefer to stay on their feet and that's one of the reasons I am so excited about this match-up."
Cui confirmed in the interview that the winner of the fight between Banario and Kelly would get to defend their world title in Manila and says he also plans to introduce more national titles during the course of the year.
"We're going to try and do that in every country we go to, to crown a national MMA champion if the talent pool in those places is deep enough. Eventually you will see the Malaysian champion vs the Singaporean champion or the Indonesian champion and, if these fighters keep winning, they can rise through the ONE FC ranks to challenge for a world title."
Last year's 'ONE ASIA 2012 Summit' in Singapore has been described as a 'game changer' because for the first time in history it brought all the major players in Asian MMA under one roof. One thing to come out of that is the amateur infrastructure which is being set up in Malaysia at present and Cui hopes to squeeze to more summits into the schedule this year.
"I've put a lot of time and resources into the ONE FC Network and building the community and I want to continue to do that. We had some really good growth that came out of the last summit, we saw the launch of some amateur circuits and there is going to be a major announcement about that in Malaysia next week. We saw some business transactions and business deals with the gyms that we were able to co-ordinate with different suppliers and sponsors and we want to continue to be able to grow that this year with more summits."
The ONE FC Network includes all the major promotions in Asia such as Glory, DREAM, Road FC and the URCC and top camps including Evolve MMA, Tiger Muay Thai and Team Lakay and with both Saturday's headliners rising through the ranks at the URCC Cui believes that it is working closely with so many different partners has given ONE FC access to '90% of Asia's top fighters.'
While people still talk nostalgically about PRIDE, no other Asian promotion has ever had the capacity to move seamlessly from Singapore to Jakarta to Kuala Lumpur to Manila like ONE FC has done and Cui says he is only just getting started.
"Major sponsors like Tune Talk in Malaysia are looking to get on board, this Saturday's show is on course to sell out and I can't wait to reveal more about our plans for the next two years. It is amazing how quickly ONE FC has grown and it is only going to get bigger because we are going to every major city in Asia and are going to be broadcast live all over the world."