Even if a Chinese company is involved in the prospective purchase of the UFC, it doesn't necessarily mean you'll be seeing more UFC events in China, according to ONE Championship CEO Victor Cui.
Cui isn't sure a Chinese investment firm owning a piece of the UFC is an indication that the UFC will attempt to expand more in Asia, he told MMA Fighting in a recent interview.
"For Chinese companies, why they're investing in other properties is because they're really excited about expanding outside of Asia," Cui said. "That's the goal. So they're buying properties so they can expand out of Asia. They're not buying anything to help their business in China. They don't care about that. They already have China. They don't need any help from foreign companies to dominate China."
ESPN reported last week that there are two high bidders for the UFC with the price tag in the range of $4.1 billion. Both investment groups are said to have Chinese companies at the forefront.
One is reportedly led by WME in conjunction with Chinese company Dalian Wanda. That group also has representation from Tencent Holdings, a large internet company and ESPN's digital partner in China, per ESPN.com. The other group is led by China Media Capital.
FloCombat.com reported this week the group led by WME and Wanda was the high bidder and the UFC had accepted a bid of $4.2 billion. The UFC has denied that and sent an internal memo to employees that the report was inaccurate.
Cui's ONE Championship, founded in 2011, is Asia's top MMA promotion. ONE has run three events in China, beginning in June 2015. It just announced another one for July 2 in Hefei, China, headlined by former featherweight champion Narantungalag Jadambaa taking on Eric Kelly.
Expanding to China has been difficult for both the UFC and ONE. The UFC has only been able to run a show in Macau, which is governed separately from mainland China. ONE has also had planned events for China cancelled.
Cui said the issue for ONE is that it is trying to run 20 events per year in China, not just one at a time.
"We're still only 4 ½ years old," he said. "ONE is really young. UFC has had an office in Asia for 10 years or something like that. They've been here a lot longer than us and they've had an office in China for several years. For us, we're just going to continue to focus on what we're doing and what we're good at and delivering what I think is the essence of the values of martial arts to our fans."
The UFC actually opened an Asian office in 2010 in Beijing. Most of the employees from that office moved to Singapore last year, though the Beijing office remains. Singapore is, coincidentally, the home base of ONE Championship.
While China is a focus for ONE, it isn't the only focus. ONE's base is in Southeast Asia. The promotion holds shows in Singapore, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia at least twice per year. Recently, ONE has made inroads in places like Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia, too.
"We're holding our events in multiple countries," Cui said. "It's not like I'm doing 20 events in Singapore. We're going to different countries, different governments, different religions, different cultures, different languages, different backgrounds, etc."
The UFC has not had an event in Asia this year. Last year, the promotion visited Japan and made its debut in the Philippines and South Korea.
Though there seems to be heavy Chinese company backing for groups attempting to purchase the UFC, Cui does not seem concerned that means the MMA leader will be elbowing into ONE's Asian turf. Things seem to be going well for his group anyway. ONE chairman Chatri Sityodtong said recently that ONE would have a valuation of $1 billion in 12 to 18 months.
"I don't know what else [the UFC is] gonna change or how quickly they're going to be able to change it," Cui said. "I don't know what their plans are. I can only look at how we've grown and what we've done. I know we've got the best talent. We have all the top fighters in Asia. If you're an Asian top fighter in any martial art, you're already with ONE Championship. All the top athletes are locked down with us. We have fantastic sponsors and partners. That's what we're going to continue to focus on."