China’s fight club children beg to be allowed to stay at controversial MMA training camp

Teenagers insist martial arts club offers them chance of a better life after footage of teenagers fighting prompts investigation into Enbo club

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 10 August, 2017, 4:24pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 August, 2017, 4:39pm

Some of the children at a mixed martial arts club which is under investigation for allegedly exploiting and illegally adopting minors have said they want to stay at the club and do not want to return to their impoverished homes.

Enbo MMA Club in Chengdu, Sichuan province has been at the centre of controversy since the footage surfaced online last month of two 14-year-old boys in a commercial cage fight.

The two teenagers were among some 400 orphans or left-behind children – whose parents are migrant workers in other parts of the country – taken in by the club for free and trained as fighters over the past 16 years.

Police and civil authorities in Chengdu started an investigation into the club following a public outpouring of sympathy for the children and complaints that the training they underwent was cruel.

Orphan fighters at MMA club to be sent back to school

Education officials from Liangshan Prefecture, one of the poorest regions in China, where many of the children come from, said they would take back at least two orphans back to school in their hometowns.

But Xiaowu, one of the two young fighters in the video, said he did not want to return to his hometown because he would possibly become addicted to drugs or end up as a migrant worker like his parents, according to a report in the Beijing News on Wednesday.

The newspaper said the boy wept when a coach told him that he might be sent back, at the request of his relatives, to his hometown in Butuo county.

“I came here to learn MMA with a purpose of changing my fate and realising my dream,” he was quoted as saying.

Like many other boys in the club, Xiaowu said his goal was to win the Ultimate Fighting Championship, a Las Vegas-based mixed martial arts competition.

Chinese police probe mixed martial arts fight club for poor children and orphans

The club was established by Enbo, a Tibetan former armed police officer, and it has adopted and raised children, encouraging them to attend MMA training to stop them turning to crime.

The children call Enbo “Godfather” and said he treats them well, according to the newspaper.

Children said they had made their first visit to a zoo and taken their first air flight at the club, adding it had also let them try Western food for the first time.

The first item in the club’s rules said members must “unconditionally” obey orders from coaches and management staff during trainings, matches or in their daily lives.

The children are scheduled to attend academic courses on Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings and study traditional Chinese culture on Sunday.

China’s ‘left-behind children’ at higher risk of life of crime, study finds

With a long of list of children applying to join the club, it has a screening system.

He Xiaohui, a coach at the club, told the newspaper that it decides whether to keep children at the club during a three-month test period.

They will be checked for contagious diseases and if their bodies are suited to MMA training.

Xiaoyong, a 13-year-old boy from Heishui county in Aba Prefecture, said he felt sad because he was not selected to continue his training at the club and had to go back to his hometown.

“I don’t want to laugh. I am not happy,” he was quoted as saying.

Enbo justified his club by saying that it did do not anything illegal. It did not abuse, abduct or force children to do things, although he admitted there were some aspects that needed improvement, such signing contracts with the children.

What else are MMA athletes supposed to do but fight?

He added that he spent about four to five million yuan (US$600,000-750,000) in raising that children a year with funding partly comes from the sponsorship of MMA matches organised by the club.

The club has previously told reporters that it has gone through the necessary procedures to adopt the children legally.