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SK Exclusive - In conversation with  ONE Championship Chairman and CEO Chatri Sityodtong regarding Indian MMA

Chatri Sityodtong
Anurag Mitra
ANALYST
Modified 08 Oct 2020, 16:24 IST
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Chatri Sityodtong

The premier Asian MMA organization, ONE Championship is just one day away from its much-anticipated return to live events in Singapore with ONE: REIGN OF DYNASTIES, set to be broadcast live on Friday, 9 October.

ONE: REIGN OF DYNASTIES is set to become the first international MMA event to take place in Singapore since the country implemented Covid-19 related restrictions earlier this year. The card features six bouts involving local and international athletes and the fights will take place in audience-free and behind closed doors environment at the Singapore Indoor Stadium, with only athletes, officials, and crew onsite.

Ahead of the event, I had the opportunity to speak to ONE Championship Chairman and CEO Chatri Sityodtong and ask him how he is feeling as the promotion returns to Singapore with its first event in months; COVID 19 related measures adopted by the promotion to ensure the safety of fighters and personnel; and Indian superstars Rahul Raju and Roshan Mainam.

Check out the conversation below.

Q. What is the feeling ahead of returning to The Lion City and finally bringing premier quality MMA back to fans across the globe with ONE: Reign of Dynasties? Were there any hurdles faced by the promotion while trying to arrange the event due to the COVID 19 situation?

Chatri: Obviously, Covid-19 harmed all global sports media properties around the world, but it’s good to see everyone is getting back up on their feet. We were down from March, April, and May, and we came back for our first live event in June in China and then July, August, September in Thailand, and obviously, Singapore being our first big international event again…It’s super exciting!

We are as thrilled as ever as this will be a blueprint for flagging off other large–scale music, sports and entertainment events in Singapore soon. We feel honored to have been entrusted with the pilot to resume global – statured events in the country.

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And yes, while it’s been a challenging time for us the pandemic has been a tremendous learning experience too. I always say that in crisis, you really discover who you are as a person, who you are as an individual, and as a team. And one quote that comes to mind, always is, you know: “Ships are not made for the calm waters of the harbor, ships are made for the rough seas in search of new horizons” and “Great captains are made in rough seas, never in the calm of the harbor.” I genuinely believe that the best companies in the world will not only survive, they will thrive in the same way ONE Championship is thriving in this environment. The show must go on.

The resilience, the passion, the excellence of my team at ONE Championship has far exceeded my expectations. And it’s just incredible effort. I will tell you that, the morale internally in ONE Championship is at an all-time high. People are just fired up so I am just looking forward to the last quarter of the year.

Q. What are the measures being adopted by ONE Championship to tackle COVID as well as to keep running safe and entertaining events all over Asia? What kind of changes will we see once the promotion returns to business, as usual, starting 9th October?

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Chatri: I think COVID has changed the sports industry in many ways. I think the first one is that content has always been king but now producing content available for digital is paramount. It has always been part of ONE Championship’s strategy. It forced many companies around the world to rethink their priorities and simplify their business models, and I really believe that the strongest companies will thrive in this environment. I’m super grateful for my team at ONE Championship for their incredible creativity, resilience, and excellence to be able to pull off event after event even in this pandemic. Of course, it is an empty stadium, which is a very different dynamic. But I think, to the audience at home, it’s just as exciting and that’s the most important thing for us.

Concerning events, we are following all measures to ensure the safety of our athletes. Everything from pre-flight tests before they embark for their destination country tests when they arrive, tests throughout the week are being strictly adhered to. We created a bubble with the hotel and transportation from the airport. We have all security on every floor, so that protocols are maintained and that athletes remain in their rooms at all times. And then obviously post-event as well, there will be more testing done before athletes are sent back home. Even in the stadium, we are going to have specified zones for different departments because we don’t want any more than 50 people gathered at any given point in time in the entire stadium. So, we’ll have tents set up out outside. We’ll have a very strict protocol for who can be cageside.

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Q. Please share your thoughts on the Indian fighters competing on the card, namely Rahul Raju and Roshan Mainam. Are there any plans of hosting a live event in India soon given it's a huge market where MMA is quickly growing into one of the most popular sports in the country?

Chatri: Rahul Raju is a rising star and his perseverance and positive outlook towards the sport have often left me astounded. He has defeated severe injuries in the past and put his best foot forward in the circle. His passion is un-wavered and no matter what, once he gets to business, you know that this is what he is brutally gunning for! It will be exciting for MMA fans to see him fight lightweight proponent Amir Khan, who is known for having the most knockout finishes in ONE Championship history.

Roshan Mainam on the other hand is a pro-MMA fighter who has earned a reputation as a finisher, and now that he is training with world champions from various disciplines from around the globe, he brings a stellar skill set to the Circle that should see him go far in The Home Of Martial Arts. His story is truly inspirational and it sure will be gripping to watch him build upon his recent success and add another victory to his record when he faces ONE Hefei Flyweight Tournament Champion Liu Peng Shuai in the opening bout of the night.

Yes, of course. India is definitely one of our focus markets and we were planning events in India until the COVID-19 hits. We were in New Delhi for the first time earlier this year in February for an open workout to promote Ritu Phogat's fight in Singapore. 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 are also grateful for amazing partners - Star Sports and Hotstar, where our lives and shoulder content is distributed every 2 weeks to almost a billion households in India on various Star Sports channels.

Published 08 Oct 2020, 16:24 IST
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