Brought up in the school of hard knocks, Chatri Sityodtong knows what it feels like to take life’s body blows but pick himself up again and come out fighting. Today he is a heavyweight in the world of sports promotion through his One Championship martial arts organisation.
The establishment of the One Championship in 2011 is the culmination of over 30 years of living and breathing martial arts as a student, fighter and teacher. “One Championship is the result of my heart and mind speaking together in unison,” says Chatri. “I thought, if America’s NFL—a US$75 billion organisation that focuses solely on American football and caters essentially to a domestic population of 325 million—can be so successful, why can’t Asia have a similarly successful platform promoting martial arts in the region where they originated, a region with a population of 4.4 billion people.”
A business opportunity certainly, but One Championship represents a much deeper cause for the self-made entrepreneur. Chatri reminds us that most professional martial arts athletes come from a tough background with a lack of education and opportunities. “The initial mission for me was simple. What I really wanted to do was to tell these incredible stories of poverty, adversity and tragedy and the triumphant overcoming of such circumstances,” he shares. Determined to discover and promote the next generation of martial art superheroes, One Championship is thriving under Chatri’s leadership. Today it broadcasts to a potential audience of 1.7 billion people across 136 countries.
“I want to make a massive impact on the world,” Chatri boldly states, and to illustrate the point he talks about a One Championship world title fight organised for the first time in Myanmar a year ago. “It is a country that has never had a world champion in any sport. To everyone’s disbelief the Myanmar fighter, the underdog, beat the then undefeated Russian world champion. The victory was met with pride and tears of joy throughout the country. That is the power of One Championship,” he says proudly. “What the cameras didn’t show was the millions of children who were given hope and strength from this. That night, future teachers, engineers, doctors and yes, martial arts athletes, were born.”
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Fighting is something the Singapore-based CEO knows all about. His rags-to-riches story began after the Asian financial crisis took its toll on his family and his parents divorced. He emigrated to America with his brother and Japanese mother and despite financial constraints that required a very frugal lifestyle, he managed to earn a bachelor’s degree at Tufts University and an MBA at Harvard Business School. Ten years on Wall Street working in hedge fund management followed and while a career in high finance was never going to satisfy the driven young man, it did give him the ideal grounding from which to launch One Championship.
Not that that was easy. “For the first three years, we were rejected by everybody,” he says. Confronted with the refusal of broadcasters to air content, shunned by advertisers and sponsors, turned away by investors, the One Championship dream could have ended early. However, give up is not in his vocabulary and through sheer hard work, his persuasive skills and an obvious sense of integrity, he overcame the cynicism to establish his MMA platform. In fact, integrity is very important to Chatri. “I always tell my staff to live life in a way that would make their mothers proud,” he says. “What I care about is whether or not I have used my talents and abilities to make a positive difference for others. At the end of the day we are all dust. What counts is the impact you leave on the world. Martial arts are my life. To be honest, I don’t want to go to bed at night and I can’t wait to get up in the morning because I really love what I do.”
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