Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC)

Ultimate Fighting Championship to make its debut in mainland China as November date is announced

Leading MMA organisation says it is ‘excited’ to finally bring a show to the mainland with Shanghai’s Mercedes-Benz Arena set to host fight night

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 July, 2017, 11:46am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 July, 2017, 11:30pm

The smoke hasn’t yet cleared from Sunday’s UFC 214 in Anaheim, California but the news has been announced that on November 25 at Shanghai’s Mercedes-Benz Arena the world’s leading mixed martial arts organisation would finally – after 24 years of action and more than 400 events – be bringing its show to the mainland.

“We are always asked when the UFC will be making its debut in mainland China,” said UFC senior vice-president of international and content, Joe Carr, in a statement announcing the event. “We are honoured to confirm that Shanghai will be the home of the very first live UFC event in mainland China and to say that we are excited is an understatement. The entire organisation is looking forward to making history this year.”

True to previous form, the UFC first announced the event, and now over the next few months they will announce their fight card which will no doubt come boasting a heavy presence of Chinese fighters, with the likes of welterweight Li “The Leech” Jingliang (13-4) and featherweight Wang “The Dongbei Tiger” Guan (19-1-1) surely in the reckoning.

Both fighters were down for bouts at UFC Fight Night Holm vs Correia in Singapore this past June, the 29-year-old Li winning fight of the night honours thanks to his sensational comeback from an early battering to win a unanimous decision over Frank Comacho. No such luck for Wang, forced out through injury pre-event due on the verge of making his debut for the UFC to an injury. But the 30-year-old fighter from Liaoning is wildly regarded as one of his nation’s hottest prospects, as a one-time Ranik Ultimate Fighting Federation (RUFF) organisation featherweight champ.

“It’s true that professional MMA in China still needs time to develop, but no country has followed the same pattern or progressed in the same way,” said the UFC’s vice-president in Asia Kevin Chang.

“Sometimes it takes a bit longer, sometimes it happens very quickly. MMA in China will follow its own course, in a country rich with martial arts history. China has produced some of the best athletes in the world and the new generation of talent will take the lessons from Chinese martial arts to give them an advantage.”

Chinese fight fanatics will now go deep into debate over the nature of the card across the next few months, and there are plenty of those fans across the mainland, with UFC figures suggesting there are an estimated 77 million in China, the majority of which tune in to the UFC.

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“Our fans are as passionate and more engaged than any other major sport including European football and the NBA, so we have a strong foundation from which to expand,” said Chang.

“These past few years have been a boon for sports in China where changes in the media landscape all happened so fast, and everything was hot. There are signs that the market is shifting, as the consumer is demanding only what is authentic and best in class. In the world of combat sports, that is the UFC, and we will continue to grow for that reason.”

Previously, the organisation had hosted three events in Macau – in 2012 and twice in 2014 – but there’s no doubt the mainland has always been the major prize. UFC featherweight champion Max Holloway will begin promotions for the event when he arrives in Hong Kong on August 1 before heading to Shanghai and Tokyo. Following Holloway’s tour the UFC has planned regional tours with other current fights and some of the legends of the sport, as well as MMA seminars and fan activities.

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“To really feel the thrill and the agony, the unscripted drama that in my opinion is the core of sports, there’s nothing like being in the arena,” said Chang. “We have been waiting for the right moment to do this since we started and it’s time.”

In July last year the UFC was sold to a consortium led by talent agency WME | IMG for a reported US$4 billion

Earnings have always been opaque as the UFC doesn’t release them, nor generally do fighters or their teams, but The Sports Daily earlier this month estimated Conor McGregor had collected just over US$9.5 million for his efforts in the cage.