MANILA, Philippines – Victor Cui radiates understated power. He is soft spoken, relaxed and has an aura of gentlemanly elegance. His suits are a sharp fit in muted shades of slate, blue and white, paired with the glam of aviator sunglasses.
As the sport of mixed martial arts rises to greater prominence in the global arena, Cui is the man who would bring back the glory and spectacle of the MMA fighting leagues of yore. Especially the great success of Asian organizations — particularly the now defunct PRIDE league based out of Japan — had by parlaying a feel that was part-gladiatorial combat, part-rock show.
One Fighting Championship, just under a year old, is quickly shaping up to be what fight fans and critics — specifically the Tokyo Times — are calling “the natural successor to PRIDE.”
From what I saw cage-side at the recently concluded “Pride of a Nation,” the 5th of their events, they certainly have the pageantry down pat. Pyrotechnics explode over our heads, beautiful ring girls hold round cards aloft, classic metal blares from Araneta Coliseum’s PA, iconic fighters duke it out with bloody aplomb.
Their TV pay-per-view stats clocks in at 500-M viewers in 28 countries. But because it’s still a young league, there are inevitable kinks. Take the rules department. A rule about soccer kicks with prior referee approval resulted in a controversial “no contest” on their heavyweight match, and one featherweight match. Then the rule was changed 2 days later.
Good adaptability on One FC’s part. Bad for the fighters — especially Belorussian Andrei Arlovski, who delivered the contentious kicks that would have otherwise led him to an easy KO victory.
Cui takes it all in stride. As the owner and CEO, he brings over 15 years of sports media experience to bear on One FC.
A Fil-Canadian by way of Cebu, Victor is the son of diplomat and Consul General Victoriano Cui. He is a recreational boxer with a black belt in Taekwondo, and he’s dreamt of building a fighting league of his own; the seed was planted when he saw Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) 1.
He carried his fandom of MMA all through the years while he worked at ESPN Star Sports, launched Singapore’s Martial Combat, got involved in the PGA Tour, X Games Asia, the Olympics Games and other sporting events. He’s been based in Singapore for the better part of a decade, though he commutes regularly to Cebu to visit his relatives.
When we caught up to him a day before the fight, Cui was ecstatic and focused. He’s finally brought his organization to his home country and to his fellow Pinoys.
You grew up internationally, in a diplomat family’s constant movement. What was that environment like?
VICTOR CUI: I was born in Canada but my parents are from Cebu. Left Canada when I was 5, I was raised in Ghana, Africa `til I was about 12. Then we went back to Canada. When you have an opportunity to grow up in an international school, the terms of reference are different and the world does seem smaller. And my childhood friends that I played with every day, one was a Palestinian and another was an Israeli. They were my friends and our families were friends, and I didn’t know about any conflict or anything. Up to this day we still talk.
You trace your roots back to Cebu — got any peculiar hankerings when you come here to visit?
VC: Love Filipino food! Love Filipino desserts! Am unfortunately eating halo-halo twice a day whenever I come (to Manila). I know (it’s bad)! But I gotta get my fill because I can’t get decent halo-halo in Singapore. I try to watch my diet but I just love it. I’m a regular Chowking boy. Yeah, you’re making me hungry right now!
When you started One FC, what strategy did you have to differentiate it from other MMA organizations?
VC: I’ve worked in the sports industry my whole live and so I’ve seen the biggest and the best of everything. I was with ESPN for the last 6 and a half years so I’ve seen what some of the best people in the world are doing. When I launched One FC, the goal was to establish it as THE best organization in Asia… Making local heroes that people could follow and fall in love with, but also bringing international stars that would make our show globally relevant.
One of the things I noticed is that you don’t have numbers in your event titles unlike UFC, Strikeforce or the Western companies.
VC: We don’t do the numbers and focus more on the titles. Just because, well, who cares about the numbers? We called (this one) “Pride of a Nation” because I know how proud Filipinos are and how much pressure is on the shoulders of these Pinoy fighters. Who wants to lose in front of a hometown crowd? In front of your family and friends? I think (that at 16,000 seats) this the biggest crowd we’ve ever had.
You’ve got icons like Jens Pulver and the Gracie Brothers on this card. What’s your secret to acquiring these fighters?
VC: What we want to deliver are the exciting fights that fans have never seen before. I know fighters and fans come to see knock outs. They come to see exciting matches.
Luckily, a lot of fighters want to be a part of One FC because they see what we’re doing. I’m not begging fighters to come out here. They were asking. They asked to be on this card. They WANT to be a part of this.
There’s that old maxim that says “If you build it. . .”
VC: I’m getting 500 email a day from agents and fighters who are just interested. Our fighters are proud to be part of this organization and we make sure they get the fights that they never had.
The entire Gracie family has gone to almost every one of their events. On their own! (Legendary jiujitsu fighter and trainor) Renzo Gracie came out here because he just wants to give his support. I’m not hiring them or paying them, they just do it for the love of it. He loves what we’re doing for MMA, he loves what we’re doing for the region.
How do you plan the match ups?
VC: Luckily, our VP of Operations and Competition is the legendary (UFC and DREAM trainor, former PRIDE official) Matt Hume. He handles all of our match-making for us.
Focusing on Asia for MMA, how does that work out for corporate growth?
VC: You’re talking about a sport that has its roots in Asia. Martial arts IS Asian. Jackie Chan, Jet Lee, Bruce Lee. Silat, taekwondo, arnis, muay thai. The growth for MMA here where martial arts has its roots is very powerful. Every business, sport, industry, whatever, is looking at Asia. This is 56% of the world’s population and it’s easy to appreciate martial arts here. As opposed to trying to make Asian fans try to love cricket. Who’s following cricket?!
Looks like you’re getting even bigger with each succeeding event.
VC: We’ve already got 8 events scheduled for this year and 18 events scheduled for 2013. On the October 8 event in Singapore we are going to, for the first time ever, introduce 3 world championship belts. Every market and country that we go to, we want to deliver a bigger fight card for fans. – Rappler.com
Karl R. de Mesa (http://destroythee.wordpress.com/) is a fellow of 3 National Writers’ Workshops and the author of Damaged People — Tales of the Gothic-Punk (UP Press) and News of the Shaman (Visprint Inc.), both available in e-book versions on Amazon Kindle, and with an audio soundtrack from the iTunes store. His non-fiction collection is forthcoming. Very soon.
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