TOKYO, Japan (Reuters) - The Ultimate Fighting Championship “failed miserably” in Japan because it was focused on blood and violence and did not create role models for Asian consumers, Chatri Sityodtong, the head of rival mixed martial arts promotion ONE Championship, has said.
Asia-focused ONE is to hold its first card in Japan in March next year and recently agreed a deal with internet station AbemaTV to broadcast into Japan live for the first time.
While Japan is home to many of the world’s leading martial arts, MMA has a chequered history there. Pride Fighting Championship was the dominant promotion for a decade but was undermined by its links to organised crime.
It was bought by the UFC in March 2007 and closed later that same year.
Speaking to Reuters by telephone, Chatri highlighted the case of the UFC’s Conor McGregor, who was charged with assault for his part in a melee at a media event in New York last week, as an example of its lack of role models.
“When you look at the problems that have plagued Japan in the past, UFC has failed miserably in Japan because of their DNA and their approach,” he said.
“We have an entirely different approach, bringing the mainstream in and unifying the continent around Asian values.
“UFC is much more focused on MMA, which is blood sport and violent, and on antagonism and hatred.
“ONE Championship is a celebration of Asia’s greatest cultural treasure — martial arts — and the deep-rooted Asian values of integrity, humility, honour, respect and discipline.”
Inside the cage, however, there appears little to differentiate between the fighters from the two organisations as they use the same kicks, punches, elbows, chokes and joint locks to render their opponent unconscious or force a submission.
Chatri said he hoped that working with the local martial arts communities and having Japanese fighters consistently on ONE cards would help them crack one of Asia’s most elusive, but potentially lucrative, markets.
He said the multi-year deal with AbemaTV would help give the Singapore-based organisation a foothold in Japan, though neither ONE nor the internet station would give any figures on the deal.
“It is targeted heavily at the millennial segment, which is what 80 perfect of our viewers are,” Chatri said.
Editing by Peter Rutherford