Sport Mixed martial arts

Macau’s UFC debut a knockout

Written by Pai Yao

This article first appeared in the Jan/Feb 2013 issue of World Gaming magazine.

Mixed martial arts (MMA) is about as hot as any sport gets right now. It is taking the world by storm as people from all over the globe are realizing again they actually enjoy two fit men belting the living hell out of each other.

China's Zhang Tiequan takes down Jon Tuck

China’s Zhang Tiequan takes down Jon Tuck

The UFC stands for the Ultimate Fighting Championship. Other organizations may claim to be in competition with the UFC but it’s chalk and cheese. The UFC is where it’s at. The UFC has the best fights, the best fighters, the largest audiences and the majority of the market share. Forget the rest, the UFC is the best.

The UFC (and the sport in general) has been catapulted into the spotlight by its American President, Dana White. When it comes to sports administration there are few better than Dana. Love him or hate him, you have to respect what he has done and how quickly he has done it.

UFC President Dana White

UFC President Dana White

White speaks three languages. Firstly, he is obviously a business genius who can communicate with men in suits. Secondly, he knows how to speak to everyday fans, and finally he has a rapport with the fighters. In many cases (especially with fighters like Tito Ortiz) he baits his fighters to the point they will fight just to prove Dana White wrong.

Not only is the UFC a great product in and of itself, it also produces an incredible reality TV series called “The Ultimate Fighter“. The show features a group of mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters living together in a Las Vegas house and follows them as they train and compete against each other for a prized contract with the UFC. The house is separated into two groups who are trained by past and present champions of the UFC. Great fighting and a group of testosterone-fueled young blokes living under the one roof like rats in a cage makes for compelling viewing. The series is into its 16th season in the US and has already had regional versions in Brazil, the UK and Australia.

In the past if the UFC and China were mentioned in the same sentence, there was never a question of “if”, but of “when” and “where”. These questions have now been answered. The “when” was on 10 November 2012 and the “where” was the Cotai Arena at the Venetian Macau. Nearly 10,000 screaming fans packed the arena, the first ripple in what is sure to become a tidal wave of support for the sport here in China. The Venetian Macau’s Cotai Arena is the perfect spiritual home for the sport here in the East.

Speaking a few days before the event, Mark Fischer, Executive Vice- President and Managing Director of UFC Asia, said:

Since opening our Beijing office in 2010, UFC has grown by leaps and bounds and has taken a strong foothold in China. The UFC is the most programmed sports league in the country, and UFC fighters are some of the most followed athletes on Chinese social media sites. With over 21 million fans of the sport in China, it’s only a matter of time before we start seeing more home-grown Chinese MMA talent joining the world’s most elite fighters at future UFC events. Saturday’s event is sure to be the first of many for UFC in China – this is history in the making.

Fischer’s words are right on the mark. As soon as more local fighters take the next step up and start fighting serious international competition, the sport will explode. One of the things that people love about the sport is the international flavor it brings to its competitions and events. More world class Chinese and other Asian fighters will mean more exposure and plenty more UFC events in this part of the world.

Cung Le celebrates after the fight

Cung Le celebrates after the fight

For its first-ever Macau event, the UFC came out in force putting together a card that would have packed stadiums anywhere in the world. The main event saw former UFC middleweight champion Rich “Ace” Franklin take on middleweight contender and former Strikeforce middleweight champion, Cung Le. Before the fight, Franklin confidently said, “I will be ready for whatever Cung throws at me.”

Unfortunately he wasn’t ready for the shuddering punch that nearly took his head off and ended the fight a little over two minutes into the first round, after Franklin dropped his left and exposed his chin. Franklin is a future UFC hall of famer, making this a huge victory for Le. On a broader scale it was even more important for other Asian fighters looking to secure major fights in the UFC Octagon. According to the Vietnamese-born Le, “the best is yet to come”.

For the 38-year old Franklin, who started the fight as a very short-priced favorite, perhaps the end is nigh. He has nothing left to prove in the sport and another tilt at a UFC championship now appears out of the question. The other avenue open to Franklin is to secure a few exciting match-ups against other fighters whose best may be past them. It just depends if Franklin would entertain this suggestion. The UFC is all about creating interesting match-ups, with cards always packed with fights worth watching, giving fans maximum bang for their buck.

UFC Macau saw a 10-bout card featuring an impressive list of international and local fighters. The fight of the night belonged to Brazilian Thiago Silva, who came from behind with his submission victory against Stanislav Nedkov. The event aired live on UFC broadcast partners across Asia and globally, as well as on FUEL TV in North America. The UFC has truly arrived in Asia and everyone is a winner.

and in other UFC news …

Jessica Cambensy

Jessica Cambensy

Georges St-Pierre (GSP) returned to the Octagon in a blood-soaked encounter with the gutsy American Carlos Condit in UFC 154 held in Montreal, Canada. In five grueling rounds GSP controlled the fight in his usual manner. Condit rocked GSP in the third round with a brutal kick that just missed GSP’s temple and jaw, then took GSP to his back and for a moment an upset looked on the cards. But GSP quickly regained his composure and systematically ripped Condit’s face apart with consistent groundwork.

What this fight lacked in finesse it made up for in pure toughness. Now the question remains, will GSP step into the Octagon against Anderson Silva? This is the fight the world wants and Dana White will be pulling the strings to make what would be the biggest fight in UFC history happen.

Dana White is not usually a man to beat around the bush and he made his intentions crystal clear:

… we’re trying to make this super fight happen … it’s the number one pound-for-pound best fighter in the world against the number two pound-for-pound best fighter in the world. It’s a big fight, we think people want to see it and we think the guys want to do it … maybe we go into this thing and Georges St-Pierre says absolutely not. But I just don’t see that happening.

Georges St-Pierre will be there – don’t worry about that. The Canadian really needs to win this fight to be considered the best fighter of all time. Even more importantly, the money on offer will be outrageous. There comes a time when the money becomes too tempting, regardless of how hard the fight may be.

An alternative scenario could see the UFC delaying the GSP vs Silva match-up to build even more anticipation. Imagine a super card held in London with Silva taking on a fighter like the UK’s Michael Bisping in front of thousands of English supporters screaming, singing and chanting! GSP could then take on Johnny Hendricks, who was ultra-impressive in an earlier fight on the UFC 154 card.

If both Silva and GSP come out victorious, the inevitable match-up between the two would reach boiling point before they even stepped into the Octagon to blast each other senseless over five rounds of mayhem. The only problem would be if either Bisping or Hendricks failed to read the script. Should either of them come away with an upset win the whole thing would be thrown into the air again.

It’s speculation like this that makes the UFC what it is today, and we can look forward to plenty more mouth-watering fights, press conferences and thrilling pay-per-view cards over the next few years.

Good on you Dana White and your UFC juggernaut. This is good old-fashioned man-on-man entertainment and your product truly rocks.