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Ben Askren (right) won the ONE welterweight title from Nobutatsu Suzuki at Reign of Champions
Ben Askren (right) won the ONE welterweight title from Nobutatsu Suzuki at Reign of Champions in August. He is in action tonight in ONE: Valor of Champions in Manila. ONE Championship

Fans win as promotions clash

As UFC breaks into the Philippine market starting with its first show in the country on May 16, ONE Championship looks to up the ante with its own blockbuster event tonight at the Mall of Asia Arena in Pasay City.

Both organisations are at the top of the heap in their respective regions, and have both played their part in raising the profile of mixed martial arts, now one of the world’s fastest rising sports.

One man who revels in the challenge of breaking into new markets is ONE Championship chief executive Victor Cui. “I really feel the emergence of a global duopoly of East versus West,” said Cui, in an interview with Sherdog.com a few years back.

Cui is something of a multinational himself, born and raised in Canada but with Filipino origins. He embodies both Eastern and Western cultures and is perhaps the perfect person for the task of bringing the immense popularity of MMA over to Asia.

ONE Championship, established in 2011, is growing rapidly, having held successful shows in countries such as Cambodia and Indonesia, where mixed martial arts is not yet a household term.

It even successfully staged the first ever professional MMA event in mainland China last December, with a spectacular card in Beijing featuring the country’s best professionals and prospects – including a thrilling main event featuring cage veteran Ji Xian and young prospect Song Ya Dong.

With success in the region, Cui takes pride in ONE being the top dog in the East, while acknowledging its Western counterpart.

“You’ve got UFC in the West; ONE Championship is biggest in the East. You see the storyline of East versus West play out in almost every industry you can think of, from Apple versus Samsung, YouTube versus Youku, Twitter versus Weibo, Facebook versus Renren,” Cui said. “If you compare: UFC has got a 90 per cent market share in the States, we’ve got a 90 per cent market share in Asia.
Indeed, ONE Championship has amassed a widespread popularity in the region in the four years they have been in operation.

Beginning with little known local fighters in their first event, now transformed into transcendent superstars in their home countries, ONE Championship continues to scour every inch of Asia for the best talent and develop them into world-class athletes, with Cambodia’s own Chan Rothana poised for great things in the promotion.

Now in the Philippines, when people hear the names Eduard Folayang and Team Lakay, they know who these guys are and what they represent. In Malaysia, Ann Osman, the nation’s first professional women’s MMA fighter, has become a global superstar whose reach has extended even to the Western Hemisphere.

With both the UFC and ONE Championship pushing the envelope for sports entertainment, doing their best to develop the sport into a global phenomenon, the opportunities to expand are limitless.

And they don’t just stop in the cage. Ronda Rousey, UFC women’s bantamweight champion recently starred in the box office hit, Fast and Furious 7 alongside co-stars Vin Diesel and the late Paul Walker.

In Asia, Peter Davis is a crossover star, model and actor, as well as a dominant force in ONE’s lightweight division. Osman bears the flag for women’s MMA, alongside former women’s boxing champion Ana Julaton.

With stars such as these, it’s no wonder more and more people are getting into a sport that was once considered barbaric. With more stringent rules and governing bodies putting the health and safety of the fighters first, the face of MMA has changed over the years and it’s all thanks to organisations like the UFC and ONE Championship.

As the UFC holds Fight Night Manila in a few weeks, so too will ONE Championship take the stage. And while the two organisations go head-to-head in a skirmish for global supremacy in the battlefield of MMA, the real winners are of course the fans.

ONE Championship is back in Manila tonight with ONE: Valor of Champions, featuring a fantastic main event in which ONE welterweight champion Ben Askren defends his title against top contender Luis Santos.

The event can be watched via online pay-per-view from 6:15pm, or at the Irish Place, #119 on Street 110.

Carlos Cinco

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