When a mainstream outlet like New York Times covers it, you know it has to mean something. Are UFC and ONE FC destined to battle for the global MMA market?
When the New York Times deems a mixed martial arts (MMA) topic important enough to dedicate column space to, you know it's serious. The newspaper, which has won more Pulitzer Prizes than any other, does not routinely cover the sport but this article about how ONE FC has emerged to challenge the UFC as a key global player appeared in Monday's edition.
It is amazing how much progress the Singapore-based ONE FC organization has made since its formation in 2011. Sold out shows have been held in four different countries to date and the ESPN Star Sports TV deal is by far the biggest live broadcast of any promotion in the history of Asian MMA.
When ONE FC was first proclaimed as the "King of Asian MMA," there were a few dissenting voices, but now there can be no doubt that Victor Cui's organization is not only by far the biggest promotion in the East, but is also emerging as the most credible global challenger to the UFC.
While there is no question that UFC currently controls the American and Canadian market, ONE FC has capitalized on the organization's comparative inactivity in Asia to form a stranglehold on the market in countries such as Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines.
This has partly been through holding regular live events, but the speed at which ONE FC has grown is in no small part due to the formation of the "ONE FC Network" which has brought together a diverse range of promotions from across the region including Dream, Glory, URCC and Road FC as well as various other stakeholders in the sport.
ONE FC CEO / Owner Victor Cui is a Filipino Canadian who has held senior positions in the sports broadcasting industry on both sides of the world and he says that ONE FC now controls 90 percent of the Asian market through its network of partners, which mirrors the position occupied by the UFC in the West.
Cui paints a very clear picture of the global duopoly which he feels has emerged.
"The East vs. West theme has dominated almost every major industry in the world: Apple vs Samsung, YouTube vs Youku, Twitter vs Weibo. And now it’s the battle of ONE FC vs UFC, the emergence of two global superpowers in the world of MMA."
Cui lists a number of other similarities between the two organizations such as ONE FC's 10-year partnership with ESPN Star Sports and the UFC's seven year deal with FOX, ONE FC's position as the only MMA promotion in Asia capable of selling out the largest arenas and UFC's status as the only organization able to do that in the U.S. and Canada and he also says that, like the UFC, ONE FC has billionaire backers and the biggest balance sheet in the region.
While the state of ONE FC's balance sheet and the identity of its owners are not a matter of public record, there is no questioning the rapid progress which Cui's promotion has made. The last event sold out the Singapore Indoor Stadium despite being available to view locally live on Star Sports, a development which has seen cards moved from Saturday nights to Fridays to take advantage of the complete absence of televised sport in Asia during this time slot.
It was the first time the ESPN Star Sports Network, which is available in 29 countries all across Asia, has ever shown a live MMA event and another measure of ONE FC's progress is in the increase in size of the venues being booked. The first show in Manila last August was at the 16,500 capacity Araneta Coliseum but the next event on May 31 will be at the SM Mall of Asia Arena, which holds 20,000 and ONE FC has already made a similar move in Kuala Lumpur, from the 10,000 capacity Stadium Negara to Stadium Putra which can fit 16,000.
The UFC is not known for taking a benevolent attitude towards its rivals and its head of operations in Asia, Mark Fischer, described ONE FC as "minor league," but it is a measure of how far the Singapore-based promotion has come that for the first time since the demise of PRIDE, the media is starting to draw a direct comparison between the UFC and an Asian rival.
While ONE FC is going from strength to strength, the UFC is certainly not sitting on its haunches and continues to expand aggressively, albeit not at the expected rate in Asia. The mainstream media covered this burgeoning rivalry for the first time this week but, with UFC and ONE FC the only truly global players in MMA at present, it probably won't be the last.