Sometimes it's easy to forget mixed martial arts is, above all else, a business, with various competing interests all fighting to grow a product. The product just happens to be two grown adults trying to render each other unconscious.
That's not to dismiss the artistry, because MMA is obviously deeper than just two men punching each in the face, but none of this success would be possible without the wheeling and dealing behind-the-scenes. It's the reason 8 million people can watch Junior dos Santos smash Cain Velasquez on FOX, and it's the reason Bellator has climbed from a blip on the radar to a national promotion.
Few men understand this point quite like Victor Cui, the man that built ONE FC into an eastern powerhouse in less than a year and united Asia under the ONE Network. His vast web of alliances now stretches across country lines, from Singapore, to South Korea, to Australia, and is why, worlds apart from the thirteenth UFC show of the year, Cui has called together a meeting of the minds.
Dubbed the ONE Asia MMA Summit, over 150 of the major players in eastern MMA will converge on a hotel that resembles something out of a James Bond movie, Singapore's $8 billion Marina Bay Sands Resort, in the hopes of sketching a blueprint that will carry Asian MMA back from the dead.
"[It's] one of the most personally satisfying and difficult projects I have ever worked on," Cui admits.
"This is the start of something great, mark my words. Every step that ONE FC has taken has already led to new levels of cooperation, and the ONE Asia MMA Summit is a game changer for Asian MMA."
In an industry where promotions grind to the bone to distinguish themselves from the pack, Cui's united eastern front is a strangely unprecedented venture, but one that in hindsight, was born out of necessity.
With representatives from ONE FC, DREAM, Deep, URCC, Road FC, CFC and even eastern über-gym Evolve MMA among those in attendance for this weekend's Summit, Asian MMA has evolved from a fractured web of dissidents, into a single community with a collective goal. And after talks close on June 3, that community will have it's master-plan.
"We are only really limited by our creativity for collaboration," Cui eagerly explains. "It's bigger opportunities for fighters, gyms, promoters, sponsors and the list goes on.
"I have no doubts that everyone will leave the summit fully confident in their role in Asian MMA, and will be looking to continue building."
Cui's expectations may sound lofty, but they seem to have done alright so far. 11 months ago ONE FC was just an idea. Now the promotion owns a remarkable 10-year broadcast deal with ESPN Star Sports and delivers its product to over 500 million fight fans throughout Asia.
And while the pressure of raised expectations goes hand-in-hand with such abrupt success, Cui has yet to shy away from them. Rather, in a region starving for leadership he has taken hold of the reins, because the way he sees it, those expectations must mean you're doing something right.
"The pressure is there to succeed, as it is any organization," Cui frankly acknowledges. "But I can't think of anything more exciting in the world to be doing."
Ultimately the impact of the ONE Asia MMA Summit is not one that will be measured in days, months, or even years. Cui's motivation, much like that of UFC President Dana White, is much less tangible.
The mortality of mixed martial arts still looms large over the eastern region, but with the right collaboration and long-term focus, Cui, like White, believes MMA can one day become "the biggest sport in the world," and he's willing to do whatever it takes to make that dream a reality.
"We still have a long way to go and this is really just the beginning of even more great things to come," Cui promises.
"One thing is for sure -- after the Summit, Asian MMA will be on a completely new level."