He could have been a contender: Even Asia Times North Asia Editor Peter Langan caught a touch of bare-knuckle fever when he went toe-to-toe with Manny Pacquiao at the FCC in Tokyo. Photo: FCC Japan

ONE Championship has grown in leaps and bounds since its humble start in Singapore on July 11, 2011, with the backing of multimillionaire entrepreneur Chatri Sityodtong and former ESPN Star Sports senior executive Victor Cui.

Its first event was in September 2011; this year it hosted about 36 events, and is aiming for 48 in the next, according to the group’s website. ONE says it now has a global broadcast reach of more that 1 billion homes across 118 countries.

Chief Executive Cui is moving from Singapore to Shanghai to oversee expansion into China, a market with the potential to reach US$724 billion by 2025.

Read: MMA enters the Dragon

In 2014, Philippines boxing star and senator Manny Pacquiao bought a minority stake in ONE FC, hoping in future to train a Filipino star in the sport. The 37-year-old also recently opened a gym in Tokyo, adding to his branches around Asia, all of which offer MMA facilities.

But ONE Championship is not the only market player. WME-IMG bought America’s Ultimate Fight Championship in July this year in a US$4 billion deal. UFC also has ambitions to tap the Asian market and China in particular.

Watch: Manny Pacquiao buys stake in ONE FC

Rising to the challenge, ONE’s founder and chairman Chatri announced a move he hailed as a game changer for Asian MMA  — an undisclosed eight-figure investment from Heliconia Capital Management, a unit of Singapore’s government-controlled Temasek investment fund.