Asia’s MMA fans have had their prayers answered. UFC is bringing its show back to the region after an absence of more than a year, kicking off — quite literally — with an all-star Singapore card on June 17 and with big plans for the much-anticipated China debut.
“We’re going to have a lot of the top talent from this region plus some big international stars,” Joe Carr, UFC’s head of international and content, said on Thursday. And although he had no specifics to announce, Carr said “our ambitions are mainland China.”
“We’ve had a couple of events in Macau but it’s completely different going to a Beijing or a Shanghai,” he said. “I have nothing to announce but it’s definitely a priority and a focus for the organization.”
While the UFC has not hosted an event in Asia since December 2015’s Seoul dust-up, the sport has spread its reach throughout the region.
Leading local organization ONE Championship, based out of Singapore, has more than trebled the number of events it hosts each year – there’s 18 confirmed for 2017 and more still being planned – while there are any number of smaller groups elbowing their way into the action.
“We’ve been a little inconsistent in our event calendar,” Carr admitted. “We had the Manila event that was canceled and we had some venue issues in Seoul … There’s been some challenges, but we think our Asian talent is at a higher level than it’s ever been.”
China’s welterweight Li Jingliang was a winner at UFC on Fox 23 in Denver on January 28, while the wildly popular Chan “the Korean Zombie” Sung-jung won his featherweight scrap at UFC Fight Night in Houston on February 4.
Also on the rise is South Korea featherweight Choi Doo-ho, a loser to American Cub Swanson at UFC 206 last December but a major reason why that fight was considered the best globally for the year. Another Asian fighter on the up is flyweight Jenel Lausa of the Philippines, drawn against Russia’s Magomed Bibulatov at UFC 210 in Buffalo, New York, on April 8.
UFC is developing a stable of Chinese fighters who will be able to compete at the top level, but the world’s most-valuable mixed martial arts franchise has its eyes firmly set on signing China’s “biggest MMA star” to get them out of the blocks with a massive bang. An announcement is imminent.
“The fighter we are going to sign will be able to step in and fight right away – he’s that good,” Carr said.
Tear down the Wall.