MMA comes to its ancestral home

2013-7-31 10:32:00 From: Global times

If Bruce Buffer, the UFC's (Ultimate Fighting Championship) ­announcer, is to be believed, there are many moments that UFC fans around the world have been waiting for. That may be so but mixed martial arts (MMA) fans in China have been waiting longer than most for the UFC to finally make inroads here.

It seems their long wait may soon be at an end as the UFC announced in early July that it would be bringing its famed reality show, The Ultimate Fighter (TUF), to China. Eager to hear more about the UFC's vision for its expansion into China and about the level of ­fighting talent to be found here, the Global Times caught up with Mark Fischer, the Managing Director of UFC Asia, shortly after the Beijing tryouts for TUF China. Given the fledgling status of MMA in China, reaction to the news has been met with cautious optimism, with some fans questioning whether the talent pool on the mainland is really deep enough to sustain such a show. Fischer dismissed these concerns, ­saying that the UFC had been "pleasantly surprised by the level of talent here" and was "confident that we'll have a very good group for the show."

Show format

Although the show is open to people of Chinese descent outside the mainland, Fischer said that the sheer ­number of applicants for the show ­trying out in Beijing, as opposed to ­Macao and Singapore, made it a certainty that the vast majority of those making the final cut would be from the Chinese mainland. "Nearly 100 showed up in Beijing. That was then whittled down to about 65, and then further to about 45 who are still going through the process." The tryouts were also limited to smaller weight classes, namely feather­weight, lightweight and welterweight.

Despite an extensive network of contacts throughout China that helps the UFC identify potential recruits, Fischer added that the team had been "surprised by the level of a couple of people we hadn't been aware of. Some of the younger guys are developing very quickly."

Given the paucity of Chinese fighters in the UFC with only Zhang Tiequan having competed inside the Octagon, fans have also been speculating as to who the coaches taking over the two teams inside TUF China would be. Past iterations of the reality show have been just as famed for the rivalries and battles between the coaches than they have for their actual winners. Rumors are circling around the UFC that sanshou  specialist Cung Le will have a large part to play on the show, although not as one of the two coaches but perhaps as a mentor figure.

Taking a step forward

The show will air on Liaoning Television, a large provincial network that broadcasts across China. Fischer said that of all the UFC's broadcast partners in China, "the most interest and the best fit had come from Liao­ning TV, which has the highest ratings for UFC in China." Fischer also spoke of the slight modifications that were being made to the TUF format ahead of broadcast in China. "There have been some customizations for the Chinese market. We absolutely respect the customs and the tastes here and this is something we'll have to do as we take TUF around the world."

Fans can probably­ rest easy that TUF China will not see any repeats of some of TUF's worst moments in the US such as competitors urinating on beds or brawling outside the Octagon. The Chinese version of the show will look to focus less on life inside the house and aim to reveal more about the individual backgrounds of the fighters, an element Fischer believes Chinese audiences will be able to relate with. There will also be a larger portion of guest appearances, by UFC fighters and other Chinese athletes with an interest in MMA.

While the UFC's priority, ­according to Fischer, is to cement the show's popularity among Chinese audiences, every episode will be subtitled as the UFC is open to future deals to show it to global audiences.

To those who doubt that the Chinese MMA talent pool is deep enough to provide an entertaining show, Fischer replies that the sport has skyrocketed in the three years since UFC set up shop in Beijing. "We need to take a step forward, we can't just wait for everything to be perfect. It's time to make a move and that's what TUF China represents to us."

Fischer adds that the TUF format makes no guarantees that anyone from the winner will make it to the UFC. For those who do make it though, the UFC is "going to have more fights in Asia, there'll be room for development of Asian fighters through additional fights. I'm not worried about ­finding matchups for the winners here, ­especially after the training they will get through the TUF experience."

New additions

While Brazilian jiujitsu, boxing, muay thai and wrestling experts are commonplace in the Octagon, and Lyoto Machida and Ronda Rousey come from karate and judo backgrounds, Chinese martial arts remain somewhat under-represented­. Le is a pheno­menal sanshou striker but also has solid ­wrestling and Roy ­Nelson has trained in Shaolin kung fu but almost never uses it. So, can we expect to see more Chinese martial arts in the TUF house this time? Not ­intentionally, says Fischer. "Some of the best ­fighters do have sanshou as their base as that is the biggest combat sport here related to MMA. It's natural that we will have those guys but we're not making a deliberate strategy of it."

As for which component of MMA is the most lacking here, grappling is where UFC trainers have found the most work to be done so the show will likely have "more focus on grappling training than we would normally, given the comparative levels of striking vs. grappling," concludes Fischer.


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