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ONE Championship sets sights on Asian boxing with Srisaket Sor Rungvisai deal

Srisaket Sor Rungvisai with One Championship CEO Chatri Sityodtong at a press conference earlier this month. Photo from One Championship
26
Aug

The 115-pound division will be back in the spotlight next month for the SuperFly 3, but Srisaket Sor Rungvisai, the breakout star of the HBO Boxing experimental mini-series, won’t be a part of the show.

Instead Sor Rungvisai will defend his WBC title at home in Thailand a month later on October 6 at the Impact Arena in Pak Kret against Mexico’s Iran Diaz. It’ll be his first title defense since signing a co-promotional deal with Asia based mixed martial arts events company ONE Championship, which is promoting its first boxing fight on a card which will otherwise feature MMA action.

Chatri Sityodtong, ONE’s CEO and co-founder, saw the growing influence of Asia in the world economy and wondered why boxing was booming in the United States and United Kingdom, but not Asia? He knew Asia had an appetite for fighting, as evidenced by his company’s shows in seven countries this year, plus Macau, but couldn’t see why that enthusiasm wasn’t translating to the sweet science.

That’s when he linked up with Sor Rungvisai’s handlers Nakornloung Promotions with the lofty goal of building up the 31-year-old champion into a globally known figure like another Southeast Asian boxer, Manny Pacquiao.

“There are amazing global boxing promotions that are based and focused mostly on the U.S. and some Latin American markets. But in Asia I feel there’s a massive gap in opportunity to really take boxing to the next level, and so that’s what ONE Championship is focused on,” said Sityodtong.

“There’s no mathematical reason why there shouldn’t be some mega fights that we see in the U.S. market.”

Sor Rungvisai (46-4-1, 41 knockouts) made his name in the United States, first by handing then-pound for pound champ Roman Gonzalez his first defeat in March of 2017, and further enhanced his reputation by laying “Chocolatito” out cold in their rematch six months later on the inaugural SuperFly card. Sor Rungvisai proved he was no one-hit wonder on SuperFly 2 by outslugging Juan Francisco Estrada to a majority decision this past February but took a much lower profile bout in his most recent outing, scoring a first round stoppage of semi-retired Korean Young Gil Bae last month in a non-title fight at a television studio outside of Bangkok.

Diaz (14-2-3, 6 KOs), a ten-year pro from Ciudad Obregon, Mexico, isn’t rated in the top 10 by THE RING, and was stopped in fights against  Juan Hernandez Navarrete and Nordine Oubaali, but has defeated two former champions (Hernan Marquez and Luis Concepcion) in his last four fights. 

Sityodtong opted not to look forward to other plans for Sor Rungvisai, insisting that he first has to get through Diaz.

“I think Iran is a very tough and durable opponent. Obviously where he is in his career to come out to Asia to fight, the way he looks at it is is that he has a big challenge on his hands. At the same time he doesn’t have much to lose, he has everything to gain. Those are always the most dangerous opponents,” said Sityodtong.

Thainchai “Bank” Pisitwuttinan, one of the managers in Nakornloung Promotions, echoed his sentiments, saying that while a rematch with Estrada or a showdown with IBF junior bantamweight titleholder Jerwin Ancajas would make for good fights, they first have to deal with Diaz.

“Both Estrada and Ancajas are world class boxers, and they would be great matches for Srisaket. However, we are not taking Iran Diaz lightly as he is a great challenger,” wrote Pisitwuttinan in an email.

“We are going to focus on Srisaket’s next world title fight on October 6 as of now, and we will work on arranging the best possible fights for Srisaket afterward.”

If there’s one thing ONE can offer, it’s exposure. They promote events in major arenas across Asia, with a social media presence which includes 328,000 followers on Twitter and 9.8 million likes on Facebook. The company also has broadcast deals in 138 countries, according to their website, and an arrangement to show Sor Rungvisai-Diaz in the United States is still to be announced, said Sityodtong.

Whether that following takes to boxing is still to be demonstrated. But if ONE is successful in making Sor Rungvisai a bigger entity, other promoters and managers across the continent may look to the cage masters of Asian combat sports for partnership opportunities. 

“We’re working with our partner Nakornloung Promotions to do what’s best for Srisaket to build him into a true global star the way that Manny Pacquiao is. Let’s see what happens with this fight, but obviously ONE is a massive platform in Asia to propel him into the mainstream. Srisaket is well known in the boxing world but to the mainstream across the continent and the globe, he’s not a mainstream figure yet,” said Sityodtong.

“We showcase the best athletes for combat sports, whether it’s boxing, MMA, Muay Thai, kickboxing, submission grappling, et cetera. This is just the very start of what we believe will be a huge move in boxing for Asia. Again, we want to work with the best promoters and managers across the continent.”

Ryan Songalia is a member of the Boxing Writers Association of America and can be reached at [email protected].

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