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As 2017 draws to a close, we take a look at what has been a phenomenal year of martial arts in Asia. The sport has reached epic new heights and is the most popular it has ever been in recent memory.
Martial arts, which has been home in Asia for the past 5,000 years, has once again become a household name. Along with its rich, colorful history, a handful of highly influential figures in Asian martial arts has helped the sport blossom into a billion-dollar industry.
Let’s dive deep and take a look at some of the biggest and most influential people who have shaped Asian martial arts in 2017.
#1 Chatri Sityodtong
Thai entrepreneur and self-made millionaire Chatri Sityodtong had a vision, and that was to unite the entirety of Asia, over 4-billion people, under a single sport -- martial arts. By bringing martial arts home to its birthplace of Asia, Sityodtong built ONE Championship as Chairman and CEO of the organization which today has become Asia’s largest global sports media property in history. With the values of martial arts intact, Sityodtong has led the organization to becoming a household name. Today, ONE Championship is broadcast to a potential 1-billion viewers on any given night, operating in more than 128 countries across the globe. Under Sityodtong’s leadership, ONE Championship has steadily risen and continues to grow at an unprecedented pace, remaining virtually unchallenged since its inception in 2011.
#2 Victor Cui
Victor Cui is the CEO of ONE Championship International and has been instrumental in taking the organization from a promising upstart in 2011, to a global martial arts powerhouse in 2017. Before setting up ONE Championship alongside Sityodtong in 2011, Cui already had 15 years worth of experience in the sports media industry, previously working as a senior executive at ESPN Star Sports and the PGA Tour. His knowledge and business acumen paved the way for ONE Championship becoming one of the biggest promotions in the world. Cui is currently based in China, having established corporate offices in Shanghai and Beijing, as well as being tasked to maximize ONE Championship’s reach in the mainland as the company begins a massive expansion into the country.
#3 Dana White
He is the face of the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and arguably the most recognizable figure in the sport. A pioneer of the UFC, Dana White purchased the organization with childhood friends Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta and has since dedicated his life to turning the UFC into a multi-billion dollar company. In early 2017, the UFC made headlines by selling the majority of its shares to the WME-IMG investment firm, a massive record-setting deal totalling to over 4-billion US dollars. Despite efforts to expand in the region, the UFC’s influence in Asia however remains relatively small as compared to the promotion’s reach in the United States.
#4 Nobuyuki Sakakibara
Known as one of the founding fathers of Pride FC, which at one time in history was the biggest martial arts promotion in Asia, Nobuyuki Sakakibara is the brains behind the Japan-based Rizin Fighting Federation (RFF) which launched recently in 2015. Given Nobuyuki’s immense influence within the martial arts industry in Japan, the business mogul and martial artist has continued to follow his passion, delighting Japanese fans with a unique new take on an age-old tradition.
#5 Masakatsu Funaki and Minoru Suzuki
The founders of one of the very first martial arts promotions in existence, Pancrase, are Japanese wrestlers Masakatsu Funaki and Minoru Suzuki. Pancrase is based on Pankration, a sport in the ancient Olympic games. Suzuki and Funaki teamed up to to create Pancrase, one of the most successful promotions in history and are both specialists in catch wrestling.
#6 Nobuhiko Takada
It seems the Japanese have had a very powerful influence on the global martial arts scene. Nobuhiko Takada is but one of the many key personalities who helped build martial arts in Asia into what it is today, while also playing a key role in the sport’s early history. He is also one of the most significant figures in the sport on this side of the world. Takada served as senior executive of the defunct yet legendary PRIDE Fighting Championships and is credited as a key proponent in the Japanese martial arts boom.
#7 Kim Dae-Hwan
After serving as a professional martial artist and as a commentator for Road Fighting Championships (Road FC), Kyler Kim Dae-Hwan emerges as the promotion’s new Chief Executive Officer after former head Jung Mun-Hong resigned from his position early last week. Finishing his professional fighting career with a record of 8-1, Kim tucks away a life of competition for the world of business and is tasked with running South Korea’s largest local martial arts promotion. Kim is set to be inaugurated in the last week of December this year.
#8 Jiang Hua
Chinese combat sports promotion Kunlun Fight started in 2014, and was the brainchild of owner and CEO Jiang Hua. The organization features kickboxing, Muay Thai, boxing, and Lethwei bouts in their live events. In 2015, Kunlun Fight announced that it had signed one of the most successful and wildly popular Muay Thai fighters in history, K-1 World Max Champion Buakaw Banchamek.
#9 Edward Calvo
Edward Calvo’s Pacific Extreme Championship (PXC) has become one of the most well-known martial arts organizations in Asia. Calvo heads the organization as its CEO, but also runs a few other businesses. Based out of Guam, Calvo employs athletes from Asian nations like the Philippines, and is himself a long time martial artist. PXC is a great promotion for young athletes who want to enter the big leagues, like ONE Championship and the UFC. A well-respected figure in the Asian martial arts industry, Calvo continues to give aspiring Asian martial artists a platform on which to perform.
#10 Alvin Aguilar
Martial arts in the Philippines is extremely popular, even years before any major martial arts organizations hit Philippine shores. This is due to the tremendous work of the URCC to discover grassroots talent in Asia. The promotion is where most of the country’s biggest martial arts stars got their starts. One man, Alvin Aguilar, is behind it all. Aguilar is the first Filipino BJJ Black Belt, and has made Philippine martial arts his life.