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SK Exclusive: Hari Vijayarajan - CCO, ONE Championship lays down plans of collaborating with Star to start local MMA league in India

Hari Vijayarajan with Meisha Tate (image courtesy - thefangarage.com)
Hari Vijayarajan with Meisha Tate (image courtesy - thefangarage.com)
Anurag Mitra
ANALYST
Modified 21 Aug 2020, 19:02 IST
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On July 14, 2011, Singapore-based mixed martial arts (MMA), Muay Thai, and kickboxing promotion ONE Championship entered into the Asian MMA scene and took it by storm.

Led by entrepreneur Chatri Sityodtong, the promotion quickly went on to become the largest global sports media property in the continent after having held more than 100 events in different cities throughout Asia.

ONE Championship added another feather to its already decorated cap recently after getting listed by Socialbakers among the top 10 most engaging Facebook profiles worldwide. Leading the pack in the Mixed Martial Arts category, ONE Championship features alongside renowned names like Manchester United, ICC, Liverpool, La Liga among others with NBA trailing behind.

Sportskeeda recently caught up with Mr. Hari Vijayarajan - CCO, ONE Championship to discuss the great legacy of ONE Championship, the promotion's interest in the Indian MMA scene, plans for a local league in India, hosting events with crowds in 2021 and much more.

Check out our conversation with Mr. Hari Vijayarajan below.

Q. We know that ONE Championship has been the major driving force behind the ever-rising growth in popularity of MMA in all of Asia. We'd like to know if the promotion has any plans of visiting India in the near future given the fact that it's a huge market where MMA is quickly garnering massive interest among the young audience who'd love to be able to witness world-class athletes going toe to toe live, inside packed arenas in their own country?

Response:

Yes, for sure, hopefully when borders open up and COVID-19 has subsided in India and it is safe to hold sporting events again! We are blessed to have an amazing partner in Star Sports and Hotstar, where our live and shoulder content is distributed every 2 weeks to almost a billion households in India on various Star Sports channels. Our social media and broadcast programs in India are also now in Hindi, which will tremendously increase the appeal of ONE’s heroes and content to tens of millions of Indians, especially in Tier 2 and Tier 3 towns and cities where English is not prevalent.
Furthermore, India is one of our core markets and we have a few huge stars representing India competing on our global platform such as Ritu Phogat, Arjan Bhullar, Gary Mangat, and Puja Tomar. In February this year, before the pandemic hit India, we held an open workout for Ritu Phogat for the first time in New Delhi, ahead of her Feb 28 match in Singapore (which she won!). Our Indian fans and the media got a small taste of our on-ground events and brand of martial arts, but that is only the beginning. We are looking forward to doing so much more in India once the situation with COVID-19 improves.

Q. The recently concluded deal between ONE Championship and broadcasters Star for telecasting MMA events is a huge indicator of the fact that the promotion is now focusing on India, a country of 1.3 billion people. The company is doing great business in India and proof of that is as you recently stated, the promotion managed to attract 20 million viewers last year. How do you plan to further expand the popularity of ONE Championship in India and make MMA a household sport in India?

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Response:

Potentially, we would like to bring in more local partners to help us bring our brand of martial arts events to India. Our live event experience is extraordinary, and we believe that everyone who attends our shows will want more. It is a spectacle combining then best of martial arts and world-class entertainment. We also plan to diversify our content portfolio with shoulder programming such as The Apprentice: ONE Championship Edition, to continue widening our audience in India.
The Apprentice already features some great Indian judges such as Ankiti Bose (India’s youngest female CEO of a near-unicorn) and Sudhir Agarwal, CEO of a Global BPO Tech company called Everise. We will also have some amazing contestants from India who will compete with peers from around the world to become Chatri’s apprentice. Moreover, we will work with Star TV to build a local league in India to build a talent pipeline to find and build the future Ritu Phogats of India.

Q. How pivotal a role do you think the Indian MMA fighters play in increasing the popularity of the sport in the country and does the promotion have any plans of delve into the infrastructure of the sport in the country to ensure that the likes of Ritu Phogat and Arjan Singh Bhullar keep rising from the ranks? 

Response:

All our athletes are our brand ambassadors and play a huge role in increasing the popularity of mixed martial arts. When these athletes do well in the Circle, competing with honor, courage and integrity and adhering to the values of martial arts, they make their country and fans proud, and draw attention to the great qualities that embody martial arts. Add to this the work we will do in India on building the local league as mentioned above; this will only enrich the Flywheel of fans, athletes and our brand even more.

Q. ONE Championship has seen its popularity grow to extraordinary levels since its inception in 2011 and things are only looking up. Could you take us through the past 9 years and elaborate the reasons behind the unbelievable success of establishing the company as a premier organization of MMA with several world champions and elite athletes competing under the ONE Championship banner? 

Response:

Through the years, we have worked continuously to bring the growing popularity of mixed martial arts to the next level by providing exciting fights, showcasing all the homegrown talent we have across Asia, and putting them on a global platform. In addition, ONE has always promoted the values of martial arts and I believe that is one of the reasons why partners and athletes want to be associated with us. Unlike some other promotions, our athletes embody the values cultivated by practicing martial arts and we have used the ONE platform to continuously inspire the people. Values, Heroes and Stories is infinitely scalable – any fan wants to be a part of that, any broadcaster or brand partner wants to associate with us and in this way, we are engaging not only core Martial Arts fans, but also men, women and children who are casual fans or who just enjoy inspirational storytelling, which is our core competence. Name one person on the planet who does not need to be inspired!?

Q. Lastly, could you elaborate on the company's plans for 2021 when hopefully, the world will be back to normal and MMA fans will finally be able to enjoy ONE Championship events in packed arenas all over Asia? 

Response:

ONE is definitely working on getting back to live events once the pandemic situation improves. Now we are running closed-door events in certain cities, adhering to stringent health SOPs. We just held a closed-door live event last month in Bangkok on July 31 and we are planning a few more through the end of the year, every 2 weeks. We do not want to be hasty in opening up the events and risk our fans and athletes' health, so proper planning will need to be done before we consider opening up again in 2021, fully adhering to health and safety protocols in every country we will operate in.
In the meanwhile, we have tons of shoulder content on our social media (follow ONE Championship on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube), exciting esports tournaments coming up (follow oneesports.gg and ONE Esports on Twitch, Facebook and Instagram) and stay tuned for The Apprentice: ONE Championship Edition which will be broadcast in India from March 2021! Regardless of the COVID-19 situation, we continue to put out exciting content for fans across various genres to appeal to our millennial and gen-z fan base!
Published 21 Aug 2020, 19:00 IST
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