Following Conor McGregor's meteoric rise to the top of the sport, the UFC has turned into a veritable circus of trash talking, sucker punch throwing fighters all trying to distinguish themselves from the other 400+ athletes on the roster. It's unclear at the moment whether this will result in a number of new stars emerging from the pack, but the path has been blazed by McGregor, and others are eager to try and follow it.
Our western fight culture sure does love itself some brash and cocky showmanship, but according to ONE FC CEO Victor Cui, the eastern markets he operates in like China and Singapore don't react as positively to that kind of display. Here he is explaining to MMA Fighting why ONE FC chairman Chatri Sityodtong recently said they wouldn't sign Conor McGregor (in a hypothetical alternate universe where he was signable by ONE FC, of course).
“A big part of what drives the spirit of ONE Championship is really just the belief that martial arts makes the world a better place,” Cui said. “Of course want it to be successful business, of course we want to continue to grow in a successful business enterprise. That philosophy of we’re making the world a better place permeates throughout the entire organization. I think it’s something our fans really appreciate in Asia.”
According to Cui, attempts by the company and fighters to whip up some McGregor style drama have been soundly rejected by the fans. That's a cultural response that carries beyond the people in attendance and watching on TV right up to the government bodies they have to work with.
“Let’s say we had a press conference in China and [McGregor] threw a water bottle,” Cui said. “I would go to jail. They’d put me in jail. I’m not kidding around. At the end of the shows in China, I meet with the government officials and they have a checklist. Did we play this song, did we play this song? If you played one extra song, they can throw me in jail and they’ve done that to other concert promoters.”
Maybe Cui and Sityodtong are right about China being the wrong region for an unpredictable force like McGregor. The country is already in shock over a recent video of a tai chi master getting destroyed by an MMA fighter. It's a delicate moment for the sport, and ONE FC is smart to push the honorable tenets of traditional martial arts rather than going for spectacle.