“I have been a martial artist longer than an entrepreneur,” says Chatri Sityodtong, a self made multi-millionaire and the founder of a billion dollar martial art promotion company ONE Championship.
When StarBizWeek caught up with Chatri at ONE Championship office in Singapore last week, the CEO didn’t seem to have had a tiring day.
He had few meeting during the day and had just finished hours of long discussion with the promotional team.
But for the next one hour, Chatri, a powerhouse in Asia’s martial arts (MMA) industry, appeared enthusiastic and energetic explaining the business of ONE Championship and the underlying values of the organisation.
“Our mission is to unleash real life superheroes who ignite the world with hope, dreams, inspiration and strength,” he says.
Chatri who has 30 Muay Thai fights under his belt fell in love with the art of Muay Thai at a tender age, when he went to the famous Sityodtong Camp in Thailand.
For him, learning martial arts is beyond fighting as it could change fear into courage while incorporating principles, humility, honour, respect, courage and discipline.
It was this spirit of fighting that had set the tone for his success in life. Chatri rags-to-riches story has become quite well-known in Asia.
Things change abruptly after his family went broke during the 1997-1998 Asian Financial Crisis.
Despite the difficulty, Chatri, at 27-year-old, went to pursue his studied in Harvard MBA, while supporting his family.
“I was so poor, I can’t even take a girl out on a date,” he says.
Despite the difficulties, Chatri says it was his time at Harvard that had launched his path to wealth.
“I’m grateful that Harvard accepted me and I was able to get a loans and support my MBA. I believe that experience had changed my luck and I learnt a lot about business.
“I am just grateful that I had Harvard as a foundation to launch my business career,” he says.
Chatri has worked his way up in the corporate scene from starting a company in Silicon Valley to managing billion dollars fund in the Wall Street.
After Harvard, he co-founded an e-commerce and became a millionaire at the age of 30.
But, he didn’t stop there. Chatri later landed a managing director position at JLF Asset Management, a US$1bil hedge fund, before moving on to the top job at Dallas-based Maverick Capital, a US$15bil hedge fund.
Then, he set up his own hedge fund company, Izara Capital, where he managed US$500mil.
At the time ONE Championship came to his mind and he was caught between making a fortune at the Wall Street and the pursuit of his passion.
“My hedge fund had a record year and I went downstairs to the sushi restaurant nearby. I sat by myself thinking: What am I doing with my life?
“I felt this emptiness. If I continue to do this, I will just make more and more money, but all I would have done is just play the stock market and invest in companies.
“When I was poor, I naively thought that money was happiness. But, when I made money I realised that it’s not happiness. Happiness is really waking up and doing what you love from your soul and doing it with people you love,” he says.
Chatri left the Wall Street and started his own MMA gym known as Evolve in 2009 and set up ONE Championship two years later.
Together with his partner, Chatri invested close to US$50mil to kick start ONE Championship.
“The first three years was hard, I was rejected almost everyday of my life,” Chatri says.
Seven years down the road, ONE Championship is worth US$1bil and Chatri himself was ranked third in FOX Sports’ list of Asia’s Most Powerful People In Sports, after Gianni Infantino of FIFA and Adam Silver of NBA.
Chatri says his main motivation for his work is his strong belief that ONE Championship is making a positive impact on the world.
“When I started ONE seven years, I wrote down our mission, which was unleashing real life superheroes and everyday that is what inspires and motivates me and my team,” he says.
For him, aside from martial arts and sportsmanship, ONE is a platform to spread positive messages of fighters’ fighting spirit to go against all odds.
“I want to create heroes that can inspire and ignite hope and passion across Asia.
“It’s just the way you see one of your heroes going through suffering and then coming out of it. they inspired you to do your best in your situation.
“I feel like Asia is really lacking sports heroes, Asian broadcasters were importing all western sports, and we because of that we were idolising Western heroes.
Despite his busy schedule of running a company, giving TED talks and living the life of a dream, Chatri says the highlight of his day is spending few hours everyday in the gym training Muay Thai and Brazilian jiu-jitsu.
“At 9pm, I will be at the gym training and I do it because I love it, although I’m no longer fighting,” he says.
After more than seven years building ONE Championship, the organisation has grown exponentially and it is currently Asia’s largest sports property media company.
“It’s just the beginning for ONE Championship. I want to have billions of viewership,” Chatri says.
Did you find this article insightful?