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ONE Championship “prepared to invest US$1bn” despite job losses, vows CEO

Chatri Sityodtong says company was "wise to be prudent" by making staff cuts.

17 June 2020 Sam Carp

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  • ONE Championship has “many years of cash”, according to CEO
  • MMA promotion announced US$70m funding and 20% staff cuts this week
  • Organisation to refocus on Asia as Covid-19 delays US event debut 

ONE Championship founder and chief executive Chatri Sityodtong says the martial arts company is “prepared to invest US$1 billion” after streamlining its operations in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, including cutting one-fifth of its global workforce.

The Singapore-based promotion confirmed the staff cuts on 15th June in the same release announcing that the company had raised US$70 million in its latest funding round, taking the total amount of capital accumulated by the business to date to US$346 million.

The funding round featured existing backers and an unnamed new investor, which Sityodtong told SportsPro is a “multi-billion dollar investment fund from the US” with “deep experience in sports entertainment investing”.

The additional capital will be dedicated to ONE’s “business as usual”, Sityodtong noted, including operating expenses and live events, which he said could resume “possibly next month”.

Sityodtong, who claims ONE is now armed with a “nine-figure war chest”,  acknowledged that “it might seem paradoxical” to announce fresh investment amid news of staff cuts, but said “extraordinary times” require “unusual prudence”.

“If you have a lean, focused organisation, and you have a big balance sheet, we believe that’s the best way to navigate these uncertain times,” he added. “For us we thought the best strategic thing to do was have a big strong balance sheet and have a lean, focused structure for the company.

“I’m torn because on one hand we have the balance sheet to keep growing aggressively, but on the other hand the world is going through a really extraordinary time, and it’s just wise to be prudent.”

Sityodtong, 49, did not reveal how many jobs had been lost, but said there would be no further cuts. ONE employs between 201 and 500 members of staff, according to the company’s LinkedIn page.

ONE, whose existing backers include venture capital firm Sequoia Capital and Singapore’s sovereign wealth fund Temasek Holdings, has been out of action since 28th February and cancelled four behind-closed-door events scheduled for Singapore during April and May due to the health crisis.

The pandemic will also delay ONE’s event debut in the US, confirmed Sityodtong, who added that the company will “refocus” its efforts on Asia, specifically China, Indonesia and other core markets.

Sityodtong also said he would “question the credibility” of a recent report in MMA publication Bloody Elbow which claimed that ONE accumulated losses of US$82 million in 2018.

The Thai national claimed that ONE now has “many years of cash on the balance sheet”, stating that the company is in a position to “navigate very aggressively” in the wake of Covid-19.

“That was the point…to remove all uncertainty,” he said, adding: “We have invested significant amounts of capital in our product, our infrastructure, our brand, so that we’re big in terms of our reach, frequency and engagement numbers, like Facebook did in its early days, like YouTube did in early days, or WhatsApp, or Uber, or like any of these startups that have grown up to become very big companies.

“That’s our strategy. People probably don’t understand it, but ONE Championship is prepared to invest US$1 billion to fulfil its vision.”

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