Chatri Sityodtong is the Founder and CEO of ONE, Asia’s largest global sports media platform with a worldwide broadcast to over 190 countries. According to Nielsen, ONE ranks amongst the world’s top 5 biggest sports media properties (alongside NBA, F1, Champions League, EPL, etc) in terms of viewership and engagement. Through its marquee sports properties (ONE Championship and ONE Esports) and its passionate millennial community, ONE is a celebration of Asia’s greatest cultural phenomena, Martial Arts and Gaming, and the deep-rooted Asian values of integrity, humility, honor, respect, courage, discipline, and compassion. ONE is on a mission to unleash real-life superheroes, tell stories, celebrate values, ignite dreams, inspire nations, and change the world.
Sityodtong is a self-made entrepreneur and lifelong martial artist from Thailand. He is also the latest star of The Apprentice, the award-winning, global reality TV show on Netflix. His rags-to-riches life story has inspired millions around the world on BBC, CNN, Bloomberg, CNBC, and other major media. He was named Asia’s King of Martial Arts by the Financial Times, and Asia’s 2nd Most Powerful Person in Sports by FOX Sports. Business Insider also ranked him as one of Asia’s top 100 business leaders. Inducted into the Black Belt Hall of Fame, Sityodtong has over 35+ years of martial arts experience. He is a certified senior Muay Thai instructor under the legendary Kru Yodtong Senanan. He also holds a Brown Belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under Master Renzo Gracie.
In this interview, I speak to Chatri Sityodtong. Chatri is the self-made entrepreneur & martial artist who founded ONE, Asia’s largest global sports media platform, home to ONE Championship and ONE Esports. We talk about the role martial arts played in his entrepreneurship journey, and how he’s built some of the world’s most powerful sports brands.
Q: How have martial arts shaped you as a person?
[Chatri Sityodtong] I’m a lifelong martial artist. First as a student and then as a fighter, teacher, and Founder and CEO. Martial arts is my greatest passion in life, and it has given me everything: my values, my family, my business, and my true calling. It has given me a warrior’s spirit to conquer adversities in life, and I truly believe it’s one of the greatest platforms to unleash the true power of human potential. I still train every day in the journey of continuous self-improvement.
Q: Do the lessons and disciplines of martial arts help you when approaching high-performance careers?
[Chatri Sityodtong] Absolutely. By practicing martial arts, I’ve inherited values such as integrity, humility, honor, respect, courage, discipline, and compassion. It’s given me a true warrior’s spirit to face whatever life throws at me. I’ve had to overcome poverty and living on $4 a day to get through university and start my own business. I’ve also had to deal with failures and rejections throughout my early years with ONE Championship, and without the grit and perseverance that I learned through martial arts, I might have given up instead of pushing through to eventually come out on the other side.
Q: Why have combat sports become so popular in global culture?
[Chatri Sityodtong] I’d argue that combat sports has always been popular. In Asia, we have thousands of years of rich martial arts history, with parents all over the world sending their kids to martial arts schools to learn self-defense and the core martial arts values of integrity, humility, honor, respect, courage, discipline, and compassion. Of course, we’ve all seen combat sports as an industry really take off and become mainstream, and it’s no surprise that this has happened in the digital era. Combat sports highlights are built for the mobile device, and with streaming platforms and social media available all over the world, Millennial/Gen-Z audiences are gravitating toward the best content available.
Q: How did you find your journey as an entrepreneur in the MMA world?
[Chatri Sityodtong] I owned a US$500 million hedge fund when I decided to retire from Wall Street. On paper, I was on top of the world. Inside, though, something was missing. All of the money and material things in the world could never fill that void. It was painful to admit, but I had climbed up to the top of the wrong mountain. I remember vividly how scared I was to walk away from the life that I knew in order to chase something that I truly loved, which was martial arts.
My vision for ONE was to create a platform to celebrate martial arts and inspire the world through our authentic brand of heroes, values, and stories. Though I experienced countless setbacks trying to create Asia’s first true global sports media property, I stayed true to our mission and never compromised in trying to put out the best possible product featuring the greatest martial artists in the world. But the turning point had to be when I doubled down on growing our digital footprint, which led to our video content taking off on social, which led to major broadcasters picking us up, and the rest is history. I’m proud that ONE has grown to become the world’s largest martial arts organization and a top 10 global sports media property by viewership and engagement.
Q: What does it take to create a powerful brand?
[Chatri Sityodtong] In order to build a truly powerful brand, you can’t just sell a product. You need a brand that is authentic and resonates deeply with your fans. The reason we’ve been able to amass so many followers around the world in such a short period of time is that they aren’t just consuming a product; they’re finding meaning in it, and they’re being inspired by the stories of our superheroes and world champions to overcome their own adversities and unleash their greatness to make an impact and leave their own legacies.
Q: What have you learned about success and failure from working with some of the world’s greatest fighters?
[Chatri Sityodtong] I’ve had the honor of being able to work with and train with some of the world’s greatest athletes, who are truly the best of the best. I’m a student of the game, and my martial arts experience as a practitioner and businessman has allowed me to be on my own journey of continuous self-improvement. I’ve learned so much about what true champions are made of and how they approach life. Some of the most valuable lessons are not from seeing how they’ve dealt with success, but how they’ve dealt with failure and come back stronger and more determined to succeed.
Q: What is the role of philanthropy in your life?
[Chatri Sityodtong] I created ONE in part to fulfill my own personal ambition of making the world a better place. I have experienced hard times in my own life and managed to pull myself and my family out of poverty after the Asian financial crisis. That experience fuelled my passion to help others and provide a path for our athletes to fight their way out of poverty and make money beyond their wildest dreams. Privately, I also donate to a number of causes that are near and dear to my heart, from supporting underprivileged youth in Singapore to revitalizing the Muay Thai scene in my home country of Thailand.
Q: What does “legacy” mean to you?
[Chatri Sityodtong] I learned a long time ago that life is not a race against other people. Life is a competition with yourself. One of the greatest achievements in life is to outperform yourself and live your greatest life possible. Greatness lives in all of us, but we must all find what it is that ignites our souls. For me, that is martial arts and ONE Championship, and our legacy is to inspire people all around the world to chase their dreams and unleash their greatness.