UFC makes China debut and all hell breaks loose

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 November, 2012, 6:47pm

Bruce Lee might have finished it off with just one kick. But then the father of mixed martial arts was something special, or at least made to appear so by the world of celluloid. There was no such luck for the fighters in yesterday's 10-card UFC Macau bust-up at The Venetian's Cotai Arena.

They had to sweat it out, as Ultimate Fighting Championship made its debut in China. They punched, kicked, swatted and tackled each other as this newest sport to hit this region was greeted raucously by a capacity 8,000-strong crowd baying for blood last night.

"This is great and I find it very interesting," said Beijing resident Philip Hu, who flew to Macau to witness UFC's coming out party in China. "What is best is that UFC is international in style and suits the modern world. Unlike boxing which is perhaps more of a Western-oriented sport, this incorporates more Asian elements and this I believe will make it interesting for the Chinese people."

With the sport incorporating everything from boxing, wrestling, judo and taekwondo to more traditional martial arts like kickboxing, karate, jiu-jitsu and Muay Thai, these words would have sounded sweet to UFC vice-president Reed Harris.

"This is the first time we are in China but it is a coming home party for us because the man who started it all was Bruce Lee. While this event is mainly an exercise to raise the profile of the sport in this part of the world, it is also a way to honour him," Harris said.

The crowd lapped it all up. The cage, called the Octagon, might have conjured up visions of a Mad Max post-apocalyptic world where the only entertainment was watching men batter each other to death. But while grown-up men posed for pictures in front of the cage before the action began, once it started the gore was non-existent.

Even though the punches were real - there was none of the mock fierceness of the Worldwide Wrestling Federation - very little blood was shed although the roars from the crowd went up a decibel whenever one fighter held the upper hand. It didn't matter whether Japanese Riki Fukuda got the better of American Tom Deblass in the middleweight bout or if Brazil's John Lineker was too street savvy for Yasuhiro Urushitani in the flyweight division, the crowd's instinct was primeval - they bayed for blood.

"This sport is safer than football, rugby, horse racing," said Harris. "In 2,000 fights and counting, we have never had a life-threatening injury."

Hong Kong's champion horse trainer Tony Cruz, who was in the crowd last night, would have heartily agreed about the dangers of his sport. Cruz admitted he was a die-hard fan of UFC. "I have been a fan for a long time and I don't see any reason why this won't take off in China".

Last night, there was only one fighter from the mainland, Zhang Tiequan, who was upset by American Jon Tuck in a lightweight bout. "The Chinese have for long been just concentrating on one martial art. More people like the idea of being able to take part in mixed martial arts," Harris said.

Like Bruce Lee, a Hong Kong actor of more recent vintage, Daniel Wu Yin-cho, is also a martial arts expert. His films include the martial art genre but when asked if he would like to take up cage-fighting, Wu said: "I don't like having sweaty people in my face".

Neither did Bruce Lee. One kick took care of that.