Chatri: From a homeless youth to Lord of Rings

Chatri: From a homeless youth to Lord of Rings

Thai businessman finds his true calling in the world of martial arts after a successful stint in Wall Street

ONE Championship chairman and CEO Chatri Sityodtong. photo: credit
ONE Championship chairman and CEO Chatri Sityodtong. photo: credit

Chatri Trisiripisal, a Thai businessman who spent three years as an investment analyst covering a variety of industries and also served as a Wall Street hedge fund manager, is now known around the world as the "Most Powerful Person in Asian Martial Arts".

The 47-year-old, well known by his ring name Chatri Sityodtong, has been instrumental in the success of ONE Championship, an international martial arts promotion outfit which was founded in 2011 and is headquartered in Singapore.

Driving the organisation with his passion, fervour and a keen sense of business, Chatri has held a series of events all across Asia and developed ONE Championship into a global sports marketing juggernaut.

Chatri, who came from a humble background, reached the stature of a key figure in Asian martial arts scene due to his dogged persistence after he found out at an early age that life was never a straightforward pathway.

During the Asian financial crisis in 1997, Chatri, his parents and younger brother became homeless and survived on one meal a day.

When his father went bankrupt, sold fruits on the streets just to get by and eventually abandoned the family, Chatri was left to pick up the responsibility of provider.

With the will to persevere, Chatri was able to earn an MBA from Harvard Business School through a scholarship. As a student living on US$4 a day, he could not afford to take a cab or the subway.

To earn extra money on the side, he did many things, including delivering Chinese food and teaching Muay Thai. At one point, even his mother came to live with him in his Harvard dorm room, which was against the rules of the college.

Now sitting on the success, forged from hard work and an insistent desire to dig his family out from the trenches, Chatri cannot help but to look back from where he came.

"That's what love can do. That's what passion can do," he said.

Shortly after his student life at Harvard, Chatri moved to Silicon Valley, where he turned his life around with sheer will power.

By the age of 30, he was able to purchase an apartment in New York for his mother and put his younger brother through college. Chatri then moved on to Wall Street, where he excelled in business.

Despite the accolades and heavy adulation, Chatri wasn't satisfied. Something inside him was yearning for more fulfillment.

"I realised that money wasn't the only thing that drove me. My soul wasn't fulfilled," he said. "I wanted to do something with my life. I wanted to give to the world and change the world."

After spending a decade on Wall Street, Chatri retired as a hedge fund manager to find his true calling.

Following his heart

Martial arts has been Chatri's true love as he has been living and breathing its core values at an early age. He started training in Muay Thai as a child under the tutelage of Yodtong Senanan of Sityodtong Camp in Pattaya, competing in over 30 professional bouts.

Chatri credits martial arts for saving his life, rescuing him from hardship, poverty and the perils that came along with a life spent constantly on the knife's edge.

"It was a very bad time and my future looked very bleak. The only thing I really had at the time was my martial arts training -- the mental strength, the discipline, the focus, the courage, the desire for continuous self-improvement. Most importantly, an unbreakable will, a warrior spirit to conquer adversity in life," he said.

"The lessons of martial arts, the gifts of martial arts are so precious that I really believe it's the greatest platform to unleash human potential. That's what gave me the strength and the courage and allowed me to take my family out of poverty."

His ardent love for martial arts paved the way for the birth of ONE Championship, which is now widely regarded as one of the world's premier martial arts promotion and, arguably, the largest global sports media property in Asian history.

ONE Championship has taken the sport in Asia to new heights. The biggest local and global brands in the world have been attracted to the organisation and a number of key partnerships have been formed over the years.

Chatri, who is ONE Championship's chairman and CEO, attributes the promotion's success to its content and its extremely loyal fan base that is growing by the 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 mould of being a global sports media property that is based in Asia," he explained.

"Sports entities have traditionally originated from the west, whether it is Fifa, NBA, Formula One, or ATP. ONE Championship is an Asian brand that has Asian values, some of the best Asian stars, big Asian brands as partners, but with a product that appeals to the global audience."

Global sport

With a highly-active fan base that is extremely engaged in both digital and social media platforms, ONE Championship is able to reach out to the vital demographic of individuals, particularly males between the age of 18-45.

ONE Championship broadcasts to over 1.7-billion potential viewers across 136 countries in the world. In addition, the organisation says it is on a fast track to a billion-dollar valuation within the next two years, as well as launching an IPO.

"Based on my 10 years of experience on Wall Street, I believe that ONE Championship is on track to cross the US$1 billion valuation mark in the next 12-18 months. We are growing by triple digits and the market opportunity is massive in Asia. There are 4.1 billion people who live here and our growth opportunities are limitless," Chatri said.

Over the past four years, ONE Championship has seen big growth in both television viewership and social media engagement, which is a testament to the rapid rise of the promotion in worldwide households and the sport of martial arts as a whole.

"We are blessed to have Asia's strongest leadership team for sports media. If you add up the collective experience of our entire leadership team, it comprises blue-chip global brands in sports media with decades of domain expertise in every area. ONE Championship's success has really been a massive team effort from top to bottom," Chatri said.

Aside from accommodating the best and brightest athletes from across the globe like Bibiano Fernandes, Ben Askren, Roger Gracie, Brandon Vera and Shinya Aoki, ONE Championship has also been pivotal in the development of local and homegrown MMA talents like Thailand's Shannon Wiratchai and Rika Ishige, the Philippines' Eduard Folayang, Singapore's Angela Lee and Myanmar's Aung La N Sang.

In line with its strategy of building local homegrown Asian martial arts heroes from the grassroots, the promotion is set to venture into new markets like Vietnam, Japan, and South Korea as well as multiple destinations in mainland China, including Shenzhen, Shanghai, and Beijing.

While other organisations focus primarily on offering a 'single flavour' of martial arts, Chatri has taken ONE Championship in the direction of encompassing all of the world's martial arts.

With its ONE Super Series, which made its debut in Manila on Friday with a host of striking-only bouts, ONE Championship is offering a plethora of different martial arts such as Muay Thai, kickboxing, karate, kung fu, silat, sanda, lethwei, MMA and taekwondo to fans craving action.

"We didn't bring martial arts to Asia. Martial arts was already here, it was just waiting to be put on a global stage and that's what we did. If you're looking for someone to thank for raising the sport in the region, thank all the people in history that brought you all the great, ancient martial arts that make up the sport today," Chatri said.

Shannon Wiratchai. PR

Rika Ishige, right.

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