EVOLVE MMA FOUNDER CHATRI SITYODTONG IS DRIVEN BY A LIFELONG PASSION FOR MIXED MARTIAL ARTS, WRITES JAMES GOYDER.
Chatri Sityodtong was once a superstar on Wall Street, but now the name of the former hedge fund manager has become synonymous with Asian MMA.
The Thai entrepreneur has had around 30 professional Muay Thai fights and holds a blue belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu under Renzo Gracie, but having made his millions in the financial world, he has turned his attention to martial arts.
Evolve MMA first opened its doors in Chatri’s adopted home of Singapore in January 2009 and has gone on to establish itself as the premier training facility in the region with the likes of Shinya Aoki, Ben Askren and Rafael Dos Anjos all joining the fight team.
There’s no doubt that the business has been successful but, according to Chatri, this particular investment was about much more than merely turning a profit.
“Martial arts has been my greatest passion in life for as long as I can remember. I’ve been involved in martial arts in one way or another for more than 25 years. In life, you do not choose what you love. It chooses you.”
Evolve MMA already has campuses on Far East Square and POMO Mall and recently opened a third facility in Singapore on Orchard Road. This is the most prestigious shopping district in the country and Chatri feels this flagship location will help give the sport a much more visible presence.
“It has always been my plan to open a location on Orchard Road because my dream is to make the sport of MMA mainstream across Asia. Orchard Road is the epicentre of the shopping district in Singapore in the same way 5th Avenue is for New York City and Evolve Orchard Central has far exceeded our internal financial forecasts since it opened two months ago.”
Last year Chatri launched Evolve University, a database of instructional videos taught by some of his famous trainers, and he plans to expand Evolve MMA across the region and beyond in the coming years.
“I have big plans for Evolve MMA and we are finalising two more locations. I believe Evolve MMA has the potential to revolutionise the martial arts industry in Asia in the exact same manner Starbucks revolutionised the coffee industry.”
There are significantly more students heading to Evolve MMA to get a workout in after work or studies then there are professional athletes preparing for competition there, but the fight team is undoubtedly the public face of the business with the likes of Askren, Aoki and Dos Anjos top ranked title holders or contenders with the biggest promotions in the world.
Askren is seldom out of the headlines at the moment and, according to Chatri, people still don’t realise just how good the former Bellator 170 lbs title holder and reigning ONE FC welterweight champions really is.
“Ben might not look physically intimidating, but he is an absolute monster. I am not going to name names, but I have seen him run through UFC and ONE FC stars during training here at Evolve. And the scary thing is that he makes it look easy. Even UFC Champion Anthony Pettis recently said that Ben crushes him when they train together. I believe that Ben is the best welterweight on the planet, bar none.”
I HAVE SEEN BEN ASKREN RUN THROUGH UFC AND ONE FC STARS DURING TRAINING HERE AT EVOLVE. AND THE SCARY THING IS THAT HE MAKES IT LOOK SO EASY.
While Askren is currently in his prime and has a perfect professional record of 14-0 Evolve MMA is also home to some young Singaporean fighters who are just starting out in the sport and Chatri hopes that they might one day follow in the footsteps of their more illustrious team mates by becoming champions.
“It is one of my dreams to produce a local Singaporean world champion. I believe that Amir (Khan) and Benedict (Ang) both have the potential to become world champions if they continue to train hard and remain humble.”
Khan is just 20 years old but currently boasts a professional record of 2-1, having won both his fights since joining Evolve MMA last year while Ang is still 18 but already has an impressive amateur record of 6-0 and is being heavily linked with a ONE FC contract.
Evolve MMA’s breakout star in 2014 was undoubtedly Dejdamrong Sor Amnuaysirichoke, a former Lumpinee champion who initially moved to Singapore to work as a Muay Thai trainer but has emerged as one of the most exciting prospects in ONE FC’s 125 lbs division.
Originally from Thailand himself, Chatri would take particular pleasure from seeing one of his compatriots reach the pinnacle of the sport and thinks Dejdamrong has what it takes to succeed in MMA.
“Of course, I would love to see a Thai win a world championship in MMA and Dejdamrong has all the makings of a world champion in MMA. He is tough as hell with incredible KO power and his ground game is only getting better every day.”
One of the first trainers to ever work at Evolve MMA was Leandro Issa who has been at the camp since its inception. ‘Brodinho’ finished 2014 on a high with back to back submission wins in the UFC and Chatri is proud to see how the Brazilian’s career has progressed since he moved to Singapore.
“Leandro has a huge army of world champions in Muay Thai, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, boxing, wrestling, MMA, etc as his teammates and coaches and he is also one of the hardest workers on the Evolve Fight Team. In my opinion, Leandro is only going to get even better in every area – striking, wrestling, ground work, transitions, and cage work.”
No other camp in the world can boast such a diversity of decorated trainers and fighters with Evolve MMA currently home to former WBA champion Yodsanan Sityodtong, former Lumpinee champions including Namsaknoi Yudthagarngamtorn, Orono Wor Petchpun, Attachai Fairtex and Saketdao Petpayathai and BJJ black belts like Shinya Aoki, Zorobabel Moreira, Bruno Pucci, Leandro Issa and Leandro Ataides.
Throw into the mix a couple of wrestling Olympians like Heath Sims and Ben Askren and you can see why Chatri feels he has constructed the perfect environment for prospective MMA champions to fulfill their potential.
“I always say that Evolve MMA is the largest living library of martial arts on the planet because there is a tremendous knowledge exchange every day from all of our various world champions. The learning is endless here and our young guys know where they stand relative to the biggest superstars in the world and what areas they need to work on.”
Next up for the Evolve MMA Fight Team is Ben Askren, who makes the first defence of his ONE FC title when he takes on Brazilian striking specialist Luis Santos at the SM Mall of Asia Arena in Manila on 24 April.