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Media-savvy One Championship attracting fighters

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Martial arts promotion One Championship is perhaps one of the most rapidly-growing sports properties in the world and hopes one day to become the biggest sports property on the planet past the NFL.

In order to achieve the lofty goal, the Singapore-based promotion has its own, well-calculated business plans and strategies.

Japan’s Mei “V.V” Yamaguchi is a veteran female fighter yet has admired what One Championship does in different aspects.

The 35-year-old karate/Brazilian jiu-jitsu-oriented fighter is impressed with how the promotion has gained recognition over the last few years. She has fought against Angela “Unstoppable” Lee twice in the atomweight title matches, in May 2016 and May this year both in Singapore (she lost via decision both times). Even during those two years, she noticed how things have changed.

“The first time I fought against Angela, there weren’t posters in town and nobody knew there was an event. It was like an obscure event,” said Yamaguchi, ahead of her latest bout against Jomary Torres of the Philippines, in the promotion’s final event of the year in Kuala Lumpur on Friday. “But for event this past May, there were so many ads posted at various places including on the buses running in the town. The event has been aired on network television, so people know that I have a competition coming up and things like that.”

Japan has many different combat sports promotions, but the fighters are often asked to sell tickets on their own. That, Yamaguchi insisted, is not the case with One Championship because the company has concrete business plans.

One Championship has gathered many world-class sponsors such as Disney, LG, Sony, Facebook and L’Oreal. It’s also launched its own “super app,” for mobile devices which provides live broadcasts of events, and other content, for free, in May.

“Just looking at how they sell their tickets, whether it’s Myanmar or wherever, every country we go to, the arenas are full,” said Yamaguchi, who defeated Torres via a decision at Axiata Arena on Friday night. “So, I’m not a business expert, but I can still see how good they are in terms of how they sell tickets and find sponsors.”

Yamaguchi, who had competed in Japanese promotions like Deep Jewels, added that One Championship in fact advises its competitors on how to advertise themselves, fully taking advantage of social media. On one occasion, she said, fighters were invited to visit Boracay Island, a popular tourist destination in the Philippines, in January. But instead of spending the whole time for leisure, the fighters were actually required to attends seminar-like meetings.

“So we attended those seminars, listening to Chatri (Sityodtong, the founder, chairman and CEO of the company who was born to a Japanese mother) to study,” said Yamaguchi, who spent part of her childhood in Los Angeles. “He told us how to increase the followers in our social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and all that, why the followers are important to us, and what we should do with the hashtags and things like that.”

Meanwhile, Yamaguchi stressed the unique weigh-in system One Championship applies is good for the fighters.

Unlike other promotions, competitors have to pass urine tests (for uric acid values) as well so that they can’t lose weight by simply not taking in water. Many fighters try to drop weight using the liquid-cutting method so they can gain some back by the time of the fight, which gives them a weight advantage. There have recently been issues with fighters failing to make weight, something that’s been notable in boxing.

But with One’s urine examination system, a fighter’s urine can’t be too thick, so they have to retain a certain amount of water in order to maintain their health.

“Your body feels completely different,” said Yamaguchi, adding that she has to be able to drink a lot of water to pass the urine tests while fighters in other promotions can get by without doing so. “This is so much healthier.”

She continued by saying the method is more fair too, because you won’t gain back too much weight before your fight (weigh-ins are usually held one day before events and many fighters get a lot of weight back after they pass their weigh-in).

“If it’s a male fighter and he tries to remove water out of his body, some get nearly 10 kilos back,” Yamaguchi said. “If you can fight healthy that’s fine, but I think your internal organs could suffer some damage.”

One Championship, which was established in 2011, has been gaining momentum mainly in Southeast Asia but has not been recognized in Japan yet. The promotion hopes to expand its fanbase in East Asia in the near future, as it’s scheduled to hold its first events in Japan and South Korea in 2019. One will make its Japanese debut on March 31 at Ryogoku Kokugikan. Another event is schedule to take place in the fall.

Daichi Takenaka said it’s a privilege for fighters to compete on a stage like One Championship.

“We have a chance to shine on a grand stage,” said Takenaka, whose match was cancelled as his opponent Kevin Chung of South Korea failed to make weight. “We get so much cheering and support from the fans during the event, whereas we often fight in a silent setting in Japan.”