UFC kicks its way into nascent Chinese market

2017-12-12 16:17:52China Daily Liang Meichen ECNS App Download

Probably the simplest way to look at the Ultimate Fighting Championship's foray into China is to say it's a search for the Chinese Conor McGregor.

But the mixed martial arts (MMA) fight promoter plans to go beyond one octagon star.

UFC is steadily building its mainland market, which got off to a rousing debut on Nov 25 with "Shanghai Fight Night". More than 15,000 jammed the Mercedes-Benz Arena to cheer six male and two female Chinese fighters.

The Chinese lost their first three fights but won their last five, including three first-round victories.

The wins included welterweight Song Kenan's knockout of American Bobby Nash in 15 seconds, one of the shortest UFC bouts on record.

And if there is someone who could be China's version of the strutting McGregor from Ireland, Li "The Leech" Jingliang might get the first chance.

McGregor became an MMA crossover star this year with his lucrative boxing match in August against undefeated welterweight champion Floyd Mayweather of the US, a fight the Irishman lost.

"We saw some China power tonight," said Li, 29, who knocked out the US' Zak Ottow in the first round of their welterweight bout.

The loudest cheers of the night were reserved for Li, a native of Tacheng Prefecture in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region who fights out of Beijing. He leapt over the cage after winning to hug his wife and daughter.

"To be able to fight in my own country feels amazing," Li said. "Hearing so many fans cheering for you just makes you feel so excited during the fight."

Shanghai was the setting for another MMA event, in September, produced by UFC's Asian rival, One Championship.

When asked if the UFC is concerned about the competition posed by its Singapore-based rival, UFC Asia-Pacific Vice-President Kevin Chang said his organization would be focused on its own business.

"We don't think of it as a competition with other MMA promotions," said Chang. "We know where we stand in the world of MMA.

"One (Championship) and other regional and domestic promotions are part of a healthy MMA ecosystem," he said. "What One is doing is great, but we're going to do what we do, and they're going to do what they do. We'll let the fans decide who they like."

Chang said the Chinese fighters' results showed "how far the level of talent has come" and that future China bouts were "definitely in the cards".

"It is not a secret that is the formula to success - having locally relevant heroes is the way that sports brands grow," Chang told China Daily in Shanghai on Nov 28.

"We'll probably start to develop and invest in more athletes in China and the region because there are simply more people in the sport now."

UFC has a development program in China, with scouts identifying talent before sending them to the United States to train.

UFC also is also going after the Chinese market via social media, forming a new partnership with Air Asia.

"Social media is in our DNA, and Air Asia is definitely very strong in social media. They have the same approach and attitude in utilizing the platform to reach consumers and be in tune with them," Chang said.

The event's official hashtag, #UFCShanghai, garnered more than 46 million clicks.

UFC also will look to promote merchandise, and plans to set up an online store on one of China's major e-commerce platforms, Chang said.

UFC has a fan base of around 40 million in China and is the third-most followed sporting account on WeChat, behind only the NBA and Manchester United of the UK's Premier League, Chang said.

He said the organization's partnerships with about 20 Chinese media companies, including PPTV, Shanghai Media Group and BesTV, are crucial to the sport's growth.

"Saturday's event was almost sold out, so I think that's an indication of just how far we have come," said Chang. "We have also reached several milestones, such as surpassing 100 million video views on internet streaming channels. We've definitely risen in prominence in this market."


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