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Click Debate: The new face leading ONE Championship’s app push

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LOS ANGELES — Hua Fung Teh flew F16 jets and trained with the United States Navy. He was part of the team that brought Formula-1 racing to Singapore. He’s a black belt in tae kwon do.

So, you could say ONE Championship was a perfect fit for Teh, a longtime fan of action, sports and martial arts. It just took a little while for him to get there.

Teh graduated from MIT and Harvard Business School after spending time with the Singaporean military. Following school, he worked for the Singapore ministry of trade and then massive firm TPG Capital as a private equity investor.

ONE, the biggest MMA promotion in Asia, hired Teh in December as chief financial officer and now he’s one of the driving forces behind its slick new mobile app that launched last week.

“This spoke to me in a different sort of way,” Teh told MMA Fighting last week during a dinner in Hollywood. “If I look back on my life and how I’ve spent my time growing up and as a young adult, I wasn’t looking up stock prices and share prices every day. I was playing ball, I used to promote in a club in Boston, I flew jets for awhile. I did tae kwon do. If I just sort of go back — sports and entertainment were always there.”

The app, which launched Friday, could be a game changer for ONE in the world of mixed martial arts. It promises that all their live events — every fight — will be free to watch without geoblocking. Previously, ONE was only available for fans in the United States on online pay-per-view. The plan is for past ONE fights to end up on the app, too, and some are already there.

“Over time, the content on the app will become mature,” said Teh, who was born in Washington, D.C., but grew up in Singapore. “The app is going to be the center of our universe. I think we’re one of the major sports properties that has decided to focus on mobile relatively early in our lives.”

Along with the app launch, ONE announced Friday that it had partnered on the mobile platform with Singtel and its mobile associates Globe and Telkomsel. Per a press release, ONE and Singtel are exploring the possibility of integrating Singtel’s mobile wallet and carrier billing services for e-commerce functions on the ONE app. The possibilities, Teh said, are endless.

“With the app, we do hope to reach existing and new audiences,” Teh said. “We live in a multi-screen world today. When I was growing up, it was just like, TV and I’d go play ball or something. Or I’d spend time outdoors or I’d spend time talking to real people. I think we live in a multi-screen where people just move from screen to screen to screen to screen. So you want to basically take whatever opportunity you can to get in front of people. The app is another way of doing that.”

ONE has been attempting to brand itself differently than the United States-based UFC does. ONE prefers to call itself as simply martial arts, rather than MMA. The UFC is still very much a pay-per-view based company with a broadcast deal and fights on its UFC Fight Pass digital platform. ONE, meanwhile, seems to be putting quite a bit of focus into this new app.

“We view this as a tech company,” said Teh, who was in Los Angeles for the prestigious Milken Institute Global Conference. “It’s basically digital media. Well, it’s digital media and for us a big part of our future is in the digital world.

“Asia really is the birthplace of martial arts — 4,000 or 5,000 years of history. It’s interwoven into the cultural fabric of society. All we’re doing it taking a cultural facet of Asia and putting it onto an entertaining professional platform. And then you have a sports media property.”

Teh has only been on the team at ONE for about four months. Loren Mack, ONE’s vice president of PR and communications, said Teh has “hit the ground running” quicker than just about anybody he has seen in MMA — and Mack was one of the UFC’s first employees under the Fertittas and Dana White back in the early aughts.

Initially, Teh was interested in investing in ONE after befriending company CEO Chatri Sityodtong. He saw ONE as the leader in the marketplace with few real competitors with a real opportunity for growth.

“I saw all the makings of a multi-billion dollar company,” Teh said. “In fact, so much so, when the conversation turned around and it became kind of Chatri saying, ‘why don’t you come over?’ to be honest, it was one of those things I had to pinch myself.”

Just a few months later, the Singaporean is part of a homegrown Singaporean MMA promotion trying to take its game to a new level.

“When the opportunity came up to join ONE Championship, it was like I was meant to do this,” Teh said.