Chatri Sityodtong needs no introduction. A well-known figure in the martial arts circuit, Chatri burst into the scene a decade ago as the founder and CEO of EVOLVE MMA and ONE Championship, and is now a familiar face even outside the ring.
Born Chatri Trisiripisal, the Singapore-based Thai native was named Asia’s 2nd Most Powerful Person in Sports by FOX Sports and is currently the star of The Apprentice: ONE Championship Edition, where 16 candidates compete to be his protégé.
With an estimated net worth of US$350 million, 50 year old Chatri is a man so prominent, one cannot imagine the extent of hardship he had to endure in his early years, at one point surviving on one meal a day, after his parents lost their life savings and home, to be the success story that he is today. Column Editor, Angela, speaks with him to learn more about his inspiring, rags to riches journey from the streets of Thailand to the offices on Wall Street.
SGLS: You started your career as an investment analyst and eventually became a hedge fund manager before you retired, after a decade on Wall Street. Any regrets?
Chatri: No regrets. I’d always followed my heart and chased my dreams. During our poverty years, I naively thought that the answer to happiness was money. It broke my heart to see my mother suffer and I vowed to make millions so she would not have to worry about anything in life.
I owned a US$500 million global hedge fund when I decided to retire at 37 years old. On paper, I was at the top of the world. I had everything in life but yet I had a void in my soul which all the money and material things in the world could never fill. I was not living my definition of success. I was living society’s definition. It was painful to admit, but I had climbed to the top of the wrong mountain.
When I decided to walk away from the life that I knew in order to chase something that I truly love, my family and friends told me that I was out of my mind. My mom tried to dissuade me and told me not to take my success for granted.
However, in life, we don’t choose who or what we love. The heart wants what the heart wants.
Martial arts have been my greatest passion since I was a child. I’ve been a part of martial arts as a student, a fighter, a teacher, and a coach for almost 40 years. It changed my life in so many ways. It gave me courage, strength, discipline, humility, work ethic, and so much more. Above all, it gave me a warrior spirit to conquer adversity and a desire for continuous self-improvement.
Martial arts is what I love. Martial arts is who I am.
SGLS: Your life story is full of peaks and troughs. The instances where you picked yourself up and stayed in the game when life threw you curveballs were very inspiring. What drives you?
Chatri: Adversity is the mother of greatness. The person who is willing to endure the most suffering for his/her dreams is the one who is most likely to achieve them. It is always good to remember that winners never quit, and quitters never win.
What drives me are my dreams, and martial arts trained me well to keep my eye on the prize. If you are unwilling to fight through the worst days of your life, then you do not deserve the best days of your life.
SGLS: Why did you choose Singapore as your base?
Chatri: I genuinely don’t believe that ONE Championship would be where it is today if I had started it in any other country in Asia. Singapore is a big reason why ONE Championship has become a global phenomenon.
I am full of gratitude and appreciation to Singapore for embracing ONE Championship over the years and for helping to build, together with me, what will be Asia’s first multibillion dollar global sports media property.
Whether it is EDB’s active involvement, Temasek’s investment, support from Ministers in the Singapore Government, Mediacorp’s significant commitment of broadcast hours, Singtel’s blockbuster partnership, SGX’s proactive help, or the incredible work of our Singaporean rockstars at Team ONE, ONE Championship and I have been truly blessed with the friendship, support, and love from everyone in Singapore.
Without the full support of Singapore behind us, ONE Championship would not have any chance to become a unicorn. And the best part is that we are still only at the very beginning of our journey.
SGLS: Can you share a difficult phase in your life, one that few people know about, and tell us how you overcome it?
Chatri: My fledgling team and I faced rejection after rejection in the first three years of our existence. No one would give us a break. Broadcasters across Asia thought our concept was silly because “Asians don’t like sports”. Brands thought it was unnecessary for Asia to have its first global sports property. Investors thought the idea of creating Asia’s first multibillion dollar sports media property to be impossible. Athletes had no reason to join us. Even potential employees rejected us. But with grit, a warrior spirit and people who believed in us, we overcame the challenges.
SGLS: What are your words of wisdom to someone who aspires to be the next Chatri Sityodtong?
Chatri: Integrity is key. Live your life in a way that would make your mom proud. I am far from perfect, but I always think about honouring my mom in everything I do.
Bonus Q: Who inspires you in business and in life?
Chatri: My first Muay Thai teacher, Papa Daorung (or P’Tu in Thai). I was a little kid when I first picked up Muay Thai at Sityodtong Gym in Thailand. P’Tu took me under his wing and cared for me like family, even though I had nothing to offer. He taught me the art of Muay Thai, to be kind, to have a lot of heart and to be generous in spirit.
P’Tu was the first person I invited to come teach Muay Thai at EVOLVE in Singapore almost 12 years ago. At the time, he was still living in poverty teaching at Sityodtong Gym, earning around S$250 per month, with zero life savings. Today, he earns approximately 30 times that amount every month at EVOLVE as a coach. Our Grandmaster, Kru Yodtong Senanan, encouraged him to leave Thailand to join me in Singapore for a better future even though P’Tu had never been outside of Thailand his entire life. We held hands on the plane ride here because he was so nervous – it was his first time on a plane.
This photo I have of us was taken when I was 13 years old, before a training session at Sityodtong Gym, Thailand. I will always be grateful to him.
Catch the finale of The Apprentice: One Championship Edition on Thursday, June 10.
Interview by Angela May Tan, Column Editor & Writer, SG Lifestyle.
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