This weekend’s UFC card could potentially be very important to the overall growth of the company, and the sport of MMA as a whole. While the winner of the Rich Franklin/Cung Le main event will not likely make much of a difference in the UFC’s middleweight title picture, both of these fighters are serving as ambassadors for the UFC as the company makes its first trip to China. The world’s most populous country is not a stranger to MMA, and Macau—officially a special administrative region that was only transferred to Chinese power in 1999 after spending the previous century as a Portuguese colony—is a much more “Western” city than much of the rest of China, so the UFC should feel right at home.

Whenever the world’s flagship MMA promotion ventures into new territory, however, it is taking a risk. While it’s possible that the UFC will catch on as destination television for new fans in those countries, it’s equally likely that it will cause a bit of a media stir due to the controversial nature of MMA but then fizzle out after a show or two. The sport has become very popular in Canada and England, but not so much in Germany, for instance. In China, though, the UFC will almost certainly find enough of a welcoming audience to make it worth their while to keep coming back.

For starters, China has already had some exposure to MMA. First, Art of War Fighting Championships laid the foundation in 2005 by staging the first professional MMA event in China. That promotion held 15 events between 2005 and 2009, including one in Macau. More recently Legend Fighting Championships, based in Hong Kong, held its first card in January 2010 and has run nine more since that time. The promotion, which exclusively features Asian and Pacific fighters, held its most recent event this past August and has also run four shows in Macau. Legend FC is also featured on the KIX television network, which has almost certainly widened the promotion’s exposure in Hong Kong.

The relative success of these two promotions should give the UFC some hope as it tries to predict how the promotion will fare in a thus far untapped audience. If there’s already been enough demand for MMA in China to justify at least two dozen events and a television deal, the UFC being able to offer the cream of the fighting crop and the best production value money can buy should seal the deal. This first card might not have a lot of fights with major title implications, but with enough success the first time around, the UFC would surely book a title fight for a future Chinese card, which would only increase interest for those fans who still hadn’t gotten around to tuning in.

A potential title fight on a future Chinese UFC card would certainly be bolstered effectively by the addition of more Chinese competitors to the UFC’s roster. Tiequan Zhang has the distinction of being the only Chinese fighter currently on the UFC’s roster, and he is (appropriately) fighting on the main card of Saturday’s event. The inevitable growth in MMA’s popularity in China, which will be fueled in no small amount by the UFC’s expansion there, will only grow the number of high-quality Chinese MMA fighters, which is good not only for the times the UFC comes to China but for any UFC card anywhere.

But the inclusion of Chinese fighters won’t be the deal-sealer, just the cherry on top. The beauty of MMA is its truly global appeal. Many American fans don’t really care if the main event fight features an American, as long as it features two good fighters. Other countries are perhaps a touch more partisan, but a good fight is a good fight, regardless of what side of which line the two competitors were born. If the UFC can continue to present exciting, competitive contests between the world’s best fighters, Chinese fans shouldn’t be any different than those in the rest of the world. They’ll pack the arenas and cheer just as loud for a foreign champion as they would for a hometown hero.

This is certainly not to say that all Chinese people will latch on to the latest sporting craze. Like in every country, there are a lot of people who are so displeased by violence of any sort that they simply refuse to watch MMA, no matter how exciting the sport is. With more than 1.3 billion potential customers, though, even one tenth of one percent of the population taking notice of the UFC means an increase of more than a million people, just like that.

As we become more and more of a globalized culture, all brought together by the internet and McDonalds, the inherent cultural differences between countries will begin to seem less and less significant. Where once the UFC would perhaps never have dreamed of making in-roads in China, today it is preparing to take that country by storm. Provided the fighters on Saturday do their part, UFC on Fuel TV 6 should be the start of a beautiful and potentially very lucrative friendship between the world’s number-one MMA power and the world’s fastest-growing economic power.

Photo: Cung Le helps welcome the UFC to China (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

About The Author

Eric Reinert
Staff Writer

Eric Reinert has been writing about mixed martial arts since 2010. Outside the world of caged combat, Eric has spent time as a news reporter, speechwriter, campaign strategist, tech support manager, landscaper and janitor. He lives in Madison, Wis.