Monday, June 6, 2011

Chinese MMA Notes: Legend Fighting Championships and the Emergence of Chinese MMA [Updated 6/6/11]

Update: Michael Haskamp, founder and co-promoter of Legend FC, offers clarifications on Macau's comparison to Vegas, sports universities in China, and Chinese PPV below.

China is the world's most densely populated country. It is the fastest growing economy in the world, and has a long, storied tradition of martial combat.

On a similar note, mixed martial arts is the world's fastest growing sport. In less than two decades Western mixed martial arts has grown from a small-time, taboo sport into a sanctioned, multi-million dollar industry.

With China's booming economy and MMA's mainstream cultivation, the two could be the perfect match for success. If MMA can find it's footing in the 'Middle Kingdom,' it could easily become a mixed martial arts hotbed.

But what will it take for mixed martial arts to really take hold in China?


This question was the topic of a conversation that I recently had with Michael Haskamp, co-founder of Legend Fighting Championship, a Hong Kong-based upstart mixed martial arts promotion.

I talked to Mr. Haskamp for nearly an hour about a broad range of topics, notably Legend FC and MMA in China. The conversation was very enlightening on the subject of Chinese MMA, such that it has become the centerpiece of this article.

Mr. Haskamp offerred a wealth of information on the mixed martial arts landscape in China. Here's some notes on our conversation:
  • Legend FC's primary focus at the moment is building a sustainable product, not making a quick fortune. Part of Legend's overall vision, is building a base for mixed martial arts in China.
  • Legend FC 5 will take place in Macau, which is a favorable place for holding mixed martial arts events in China. Although, Macau is not on the same level as Vegas, the city is focused on presenting a diverse leisure experience to complement the gaming industry there. Mixed martial arts is a part of that experience. For that reason, City of Dreams and Legend FC have teamed up to bring MMA to Macau on a more regular basis. Legend's newly-established partnership with City of Dreams resort in Macau offers Legend the opportunity for Legend to grow and expand in a unique setting.
  • Art of War was once making some strides in China between 2005 and 2009. The organization started as a small promotion, putting on events in small venues. Founded by two Chinese American brothers, the organization eventually brought in a major investor from the Middle East. With the new funding, AOW started putting on much bigger shows, but when the investment funds were pulled, AOW had a difficult time sustaining itself. They haven't produced a show since 2009. AOW was trying to broker a deal with City of Dreams, however Legend FC was able to secure a partnership deal with the resort.
  • Two other organizations, RUFF-China and Asian Fighting Championships (AFC), have announced their presence but have yet to stage events. RUFF boasts itself as the first government-sanctioned mixed martial arts promotion in China. They are regulated by the Chinese Wushu Association, which doesn't necessarily guarantee that they will actually stage an event.
  • Each province in China has a university. These universities compete against each other in a system similar to the NCAA. The majority of Chinese mixed martial artists have trained and competed in University Wushu-Sanda programs, making them very strong stand-up fighters. Rounding out the Chinese MMA skill set is a matter that has drawn attention, and there has been talk of the Chinese government sending Chinese fighters outside of the countries to train and develop their MMA skills. The Chinese government strongly supports Chinese sports, and MMA is gradually becoming a priority on their agenda.
  • A lot of Chinese athletes are making inquiries with American coaches for training. It's only a matter of time before you see Chinese fighters attending U.S.-based gyms for training, just as many have done in American colleges and universities.
  • The martial arts are an indigenous sport in China and there is a great supply of fighters in China. But, MMA in China could use a hero of the sport to boost its popularity there. The Chinese are fiercely patriotic and will follow and support a mixed martial arts figure head that represents them.
  • Japanese MMA is not a good fit for Chinese MMA, given the cultural differences and tensions. As it stands, Japanese MMA currently has it's own set of concerns to deal with.
  • PPV is not big in China. Televised sports are primarily sponsorship-driven there.

Just a few bullets from a very informative conversation, but there's no way to summarize the budding movement in China. China is the next frontier for mixed martial arts, and Legend FC is paving the way for big things to to happen there.

In the meantime, Legend FC is planning their fifth installment, Legend FC 5. Updates are being posted regularly at the official Legend FC website.

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Update, 6/6/2011, via Michael Haskamp, founder and co-promoter of Legend FC. Clarifications on some of the notes above:
  • Macau has actually exceeded Vegas in terms of overall revenues. Where it falls behind is entertainment.
  • Each province in China has numerous universities. There are several sports universities throughout China, and a handful of them that are particularly competitive in martial arts. 
  • PPV is pretty much non-existent in China. To date, most initiatives have focused on streaming PPV movies online, with costs of less than US$1 per buy. The overall point is that TV licensing revenues in general (including PPV) are very, very low in China, primarily because the government still controls all media.
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再见 (Zàijiàn, meaning "goodbye").

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