One look at Chatri Sityodtong’s impressive resume—he’s earned an MBA from Harvard Business School, built a software company before selling it for millions, and established a multi-million dollar hedge fund on Wall Street—and it might be easy to assume that the Chairman of Asia fighting promotion One Championship had always been an ambitious go-getter. But he says this wasn’t always the case. “As a boy, I was rather playful and rebellious, and I was always called into the principal’s office for causing trouble,” he laughs. “If I’d gone through Singapore’s education system, I probably wouldn’t have done very well.”

The turning point came during the Asian financial crisis, when his family lost everything. “My father left us, and we were surviving on one meal a day,” he shares. These days, he no longer feels shame and embarrassment about his humble beginnings. “Those times were tough, but they were also the best days of my life. They taught me about strength and courage, the importance of never giving up and always being grateful for what I have. Having close to nothing gave me an enormous fire in my belly to achieve something so that I could take care of my mum.”

Today, One Championship is set to grow beyond the $1 billion valuation mark, thanks to an eight-figure investment by Heliconia Capital Management, a subsidiary wholly owned by Temasek Holdings, earlier this year.  Sityodtong says the money will be used to increase One Championship’s footprint in Asia by staging more shows in countries such as China, Japan, Korea and Vietnam.

The company has come a long way since it first launched in 2011. According to Sityodtong, some of the challenges that One Championship had to weather were a lack of a sports culture in Asia, coupled with the fact that martial arts was viewed as being “low class”; something that was more associated with gangs and secret societies. As of this moment, One Championship is Asia’s largest sports media property, and is broadcasted in 118 countries.

Martial arts remains a huge part of Sityodtong’s personal life, and he still regularly trains muay thai in Evolve MMA, which he also founded. Here, he tells us more about what keeps him going.

I start my day with… a hug and a kiss from my dogs.

One thing people don’t know about me… I’m actually more of a lover than fighter.

The one person that inspires me… is Kru Yodtong Senanan. He was a muay thai fighter, trainer and owner of Sityodtong Muay Thai Camp in Thailand, whom I trained under as a child. He passed away a few years ago, but he is still my biggest inspiration because he helped many so many orphans and poor families in his time.

My favourite city… has to be Singapore. Although I’ve also lived in Tokyo, Bangkok and Boston, Singapore is truly a world-class, cosmopolitan city. The food is second to none.

In 10 years… I hope that One Championship will not just become a multi-billion dollar sports media property, but also be the platform that encourages people to live their lives with courage and strength.

Tags: singapore sports, Chatri Sityodtong, One Championship chairman