Martial arts fans are being offered the chance to watch the best of the best after the signing of a deal between beIN Sports and Asia’s premier mixed fighting network.
ONE Championship, which describes itself as Asia’s largest sports platform, said the beIN Sports deal will put all its events on screens in the Middle East and North Africa.
Chatri Sityodtong, the company’s CEO from Singapore, said it was only the first step. He plans live events in the region, the creation of training centers and martial arts schools — and ultimately the discovery of a star from Saudi Arabia.
“We are going to showcase all of our events live on beIN Sports. I’ve been visiting the Middle East quite often for work the last few years, and I see a lot of opportunity,” he said.
“I’m excited to work and show our events and build heroes in the region. I think there could be great opportunities in Saudi Arabia or Qatar, there’s a few countries in which we really see a lot of potential.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if in the coming years we’re able to create a Saudi Arabian superstar. There’s just so much opportunity because the fan base is growing in the Middle East, but there aren’t enough schools, not enough training centers.”
He said finding new talent was at the core of ONE’s mission.
“We’re looking for the very best martial artists. We host a whole bunch of different martial arts, not just MMA. We have scouts all over the world, and we’re looking for the very best future talent. So we don’t really look at which country they are from.
“We do want to find a Middle Eastern superstar, we do want to find a Saudi Arabian hero, that can inspire the whole country, but yet be a world champion on the global stage of ONE.”
Sityodtong said ONE’s popularity had exploded despite the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on live sports.
“ONE is a little over 10 years old, but we have really started growing globally. If you look at where all of our TV broadcast partners are, it’s 154 countries around the world.
“We haven’t had any events other than in Dubai eight years ago. We see a very big opportunity now.”
Mixed martial arts is a full-contact combat sport where fighters use a range of disciplines such as karate, tae kwon do and even wrestling to defeat their opponent.
Sityodtong said ONE had a stable of international stars and talent.
“A very exciting fighter is a muay thai world champion named Rodtang,” he said.
“His popularity has just exploded in the last 12 to 18 months. His style is very exciting. He tries to go for a knockout every time and he’s very entertaining. He’s the best in the world.
“Household names like Demetrious Johnson, the greatest of all time in my opinion. He’s the only man to win world titles in UFC and ONE, which is huge. No other person’s done that.
“In submission grappling, we have the greatest of all time in Buchecha,” Sityodtong said, using the nickname of the fighter Marcus Almeida.
“Anissa Meksen, she’s from France, but she has roots in Algeria. She’s the greatest female kickboxer in history.”
Sityodtong said he wanted to bring new fans to the sport. “For those of you who are already fans, you know what it is, if you’re not a fan, come watch the world’s greatest martial artists in action,” he said.
“We have the highest finish rate, KOs and submissions of any global organization in the world,” Sityodtong said. “You get mixed martial arts, you get kickboxing, muay thai, you get grappling, the world's best fighters on a single platform.”