If there is one athlete who put Asia on the map of the international sporting scene, it is boxing superstar Manny Pacquiao.
Pacquiao’s in-ring achievements speak for itself as he is the only pugilist in history to capture major world titles in eight different weight classes and was long rated as the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world by most sporting news and boxing websites.
However, boxing’s popularity in the Asian region is slowly ebbing due to several factors, including Pacquiao’s imminent exit from the sport and the growing reputation of another form of combat sport like mixed martial arts.
Boxing promoters such as Bob Arum of Top Rank tried to replicate Pacquiao’s magic and rise to stardom with Chinese boxer Zou Shiming, but the 86-year-old American businessman failed to get the desired result.
As the demand for boxing continues to wane in Asia, the sport has found an unlikely ally in ONE Championship, a mixed martial arts organization that was established in Singapore seven years ago.
Already solidified itself as one of the premier mixed martial arts promotions in the world, ONE Championship has set its sights on boxing.
ONE Championship recently announced its partnership with Nakornloung Promotion to co-promote the world title defense of WBC super flyweight champion Srisaket Sor Rungvisai in the main event of ONE: KINGDOM OF HEROES, which is set to take place at the Impact Arena in Bangkok, Thailand on October 6.
“Our work in boxing has always been driven by our passion and love. The best part of it is that we get to give life-turning opportunities to boxers and their families. Each of them has their own stories, but they are all driven by the same dream – to be the world champion,” said Thainchai Pisitwuttinan, the head honcho of Nakornloung Promotion.
“I am glad that our promotion and ONE Championship have coalesced in having a common mission and vision for combat sports athletes around the globe,” he added.
Dipping its toes into boxing is a no-brainer for ONE Championship after it launched the highly-acclaimed ONE Super Series last April, which was created with the purpose of showcasing the purest forms of striking arts such as Muay Thai and kickboxing on the biggest and most prestigious stage of competition.
At a press conference in Manila, Philippines three months ago, ONE Championship big boss Chatri Sityodtong hinted plans to establish a professional boxing league in addition to ONE Super Series, inviting boxers from all over the globe to join the promotion.
A few months later, Sityodtong proved that he was dead serious in hosting boxing matches in ONE Championship, announcing his partnership with Nakomloung Promotion in staging Rungvisai’s homecoming bout in Thailand on October 6.
Sityodtong described the organization’s venture into boxing as akin to ONE Championship’s buoyant effort in elevating mixed martial arts in Asia.
“When we started seven years ago, nobody wanted to talk to us. They didn’t even want to work with us. Of course, that changed eventually. We have experienced such exponential growth in all areas. If we could do for it mixed martial arts, we can do it for boxing as well,” Sityodtong stated.
Since its inception in 2011, ONE Championship has taken mixed martial arts in Asia into greater heights, broadcasting to over 1.7-billion potential viewers across 136 countries around the world.
With a highly-active fan base that is engaged in both digital and social media platforms, the biggest local and global brands in the world have been attracted to ONE Championship.
Forming a number of key partnerships, ONE Championship is at pace for a billion dollar valuation and an initial public offering in the next couple of years.
In line with ONE Championship’s strategy of developing local and homegrown mixed martial arts athletes, the promotion ventured and scouted talents into new markets like Cambodia, Thailand, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, India and Vietnam as well as untapped areas of the Middle East, China and Russia.
Sityodtong attributes the promotion’s success to its content and its extremely-loyal fans that are growing in number every single day.
“ONE Championship captures the essence of entertainment similar to a show in Las Vegas, but combines it with the sporting excellence of elite martial artists. It also breaks the mold of being a global sports media property that is based in Asia,” he explained.
Sityodtong’s claim was supported by Filipino boxing standout Jerwin Ancajas, who was at ringside to watch ONE: HEROES OF HONOR live in Manila, Philippines this past April.
Ancajas, the reigning IBF super flyweight titleholder, commended ONE Championship’s work in its production and promotion of athletes.
“This is the first time I’ve watched a live mixed martial arts event. I’ve always watched it on TV, but it’s a whole different experience seeing it live. I really had a delightful time. The production value is truly world-class,” the boxer shared.
The 26-year-old native of Panabo City, Davao del Norte pointed out that ONE Championship’s dive into the boxing scene would make a huge impact on the sport.
“ONE Championship is a huge promotion. It will be good for boxing because there are only few big boxing promoters in the Philippines and in Asia. This kind of support is needed, and should boxing have this kind of events, it will be a huge help for boxing in the region,” Ancajas stressed.
Sityodtong admitted that he is fully aware of the vastness of boxing history in Asia, giving birth to boxers who left indelible legacies in the sport with the likes of Pacquiao, Gerry Peñalosa, Pancho Villa, Gabriel “Flash” Elorde, Chang Jung-Koo, Yoko Gushiken and Yuh Myung-Woo.
With ONE Championship trying its hand in boxing, Sityodtong believes that the organization will breathe new life into the sport in Asia to produce more top-notch pugilists.
“I consider ONE Championship as the caretaker of every form of martial arts in the world, including boxing. We will make sure that the new generation of boxers in Asia will be fully nurtured. The legacy that Manny Pacquiao and other boxing greats have created must continue. We are reaching out. We shall grow together,” he ended.