Caught in the grip: why China wants a piece of the global mixed martial arts boom
Newly created mainland federation wants to host Asian championships next year, with three fighters experiencing the inaugural event in Singapore this weekend
China’s move to embrace the sport of mixed martial arts has gathered pace over the past week with the country now poised to host the next edition of the Asian Open Championships.
The newly created China International Mixed Martial Arts Federation (CIMMAF) will invite its international counterpart to Beijing in July to seal the deal.
“We hope to make it formal then,” CIMMAF secretary-general Adrian Lee told the Post. “We have very strong government support and the sport can only go forwards from here.”
The CIMMAF only came into existence last November and has brought three fighters to the first staging of the Asian championships, being held in Singapore this week.
“We are just here for the experience really this time around,” said Lee. “It’s all very new but we have a management team in place and we are contacting all the clubs that have sprung up around the country.
“We want to get in and help China’s young fighters as soon as possible.”
A total of 16 nations have been represented across the 10 weight divisions in action at this event as the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation (IMMAF) continues to formalise the regulations of a sport which has been unique in that is developed from the professional level down.
“The sport was born through the professional circuit,” said IMMAF president Kerrith Brown. “When you look down at the bottom end there’s been nothing, no development of the core asset in terms of building the sport, and that’s what we’ve been given the task to do.
“Governance, safety and the idea is to guide these fighters through from amateurs through to professionals. We’re working with the IOC and Wada too and with events like this we’re getting our stake in the ground.”
The IMMAF was formed in 2012 and has signed on 76 national federations, as well as having the support of major professional MMA organisations, such as the Ultimate Fighting Championship. The UFC is also in Singapore this week for its Fight Night 11 card on Saturday night.
China’s leading MMA fighter Li “The Leech” Jingliang (12-4) will compete in a welterweight bout against Frank “The Crank” Camacho (20-4), who fights out of Saipan.
Lee said the 29-year-old’s presence in the UFC – and the recent signing of featherweight standout Wang Guan (16-1-1) by the Las Vegas-based organisation – had created unprecedented interest in the sport, and had showed emerging Chinese fighters just how far they could go.
“Li is a hero and an inspiration,” said Lee. “We’ll be here cheering him on – and the whole country will too.”