With the slow emergence of a middle class in modern China, companies and entire markets are looking to tap into the new potential revenue stream. Â Foreign interests are trying to influence popular culture in order to create a market. Â The biggest example to date would be the NBA. Â The NBA actively fostered an already burgeoning interest in basketball and reaped massive benefits from their investment. Â In this article weâ€™ll take a look at a list of things that need to happen before MMA gets big in China. Â You like eating fried crickets? Â Well too bad because youâ€™re in the (Chinese) jungle now.
Dragon Style: Homegrown Talent
Everybody loves it when a local hero makes it big. Â We all want a national hero to stand behind, and if they happen to be the same ethnicity as us then it makes it so much better. Â Hate on Mayweather all you want but the manâ€™s not stupid: Jeremy Lin would have still been a popular player due to his basketball credential alone but what makes his story so fascinating is that heâ€™s Asian. Â To deny that biases exist along ethnic lines in sports would be to deny that they exist in politics. Â Weâ€™re not colorblind, nor are we race-blind.
The Chinese need a Wong Fei Hung of MMA they can stand behind. Â Someone that will get them excited about watching MMA. Â The fighter needs to be talented, charismatic, and most importantly, Chinese. Â MMA is a relatively new sport in China, but if Chinaâ€™s economy has shown us anything itâ€™s that the Chinese have no problem playing catch up. Â China Top Team has a solid stable of fighters already, but we have yet to see a Chinese MMA superstar. Â If the Chinese MMA market is an unlit bonfire, the first Chinese MMA champion would be the spark that ignites it. Â Whatâ€™s needed is a Chinese MMA version of Yao Ming.
The closest to being such a folk hero is Zhang Tiequan. Â He is currently the only citizen of the Peopleâ€™s Republic of China competing in the UFC. Â He is of Mongolian descent, something that could hinder him in garnering a fan base among â€œpuristsâ€, and letâ€™s not pretend, they exist by the dozens all across Asia. Â However, if Zhang keeps winning and winning impressively, people will gladly overlook his Mongolian ancestry when heâ€™s holding the golden belt.
Tiger Style: Education and Participation
MMA isnâ€™t a sport anybody can watch. Â Unless you know whatâ€™s going on, when the fight hits the ground itâ€™s boring. Â The reason anyone can watch boxing or kickboxing is because you donâ€™t have to understand the intricacies of the sport, itâ€™s just fun to watch people dish out brain damage to each other. Â In order for the MMA market to grow, the Brazilian Jujitsu and MMA training center market has to grow as well. Â In no market including the US is there a large MMA fanbase where there isnâ€™t a population that trains and fights as well. Â People who participate in the sport are integral to MMA because what the sport lacks in numbers it makes up for in intensity. Â How many people who watch boxing can call themselves boxers? Â Not many, but thatâ€™s OK because the sport has been around for so long and itâ€™s fun to watch whether you know how to bob and weave or not.
With a new sport like MMA itâ€™s a different story. Â In order to truly enjoy watching MMA you have to understand all aspects of it, including the wrestling and jujtisu. Â Grooming a grappling and MMA base for participation is key. Â Weâ€™ve all watched fights with complete newbs and their newbie questions like: â€œWhy did he tap?â€ When someoneâ€™s caught in a triangle choke, or â€œWhy does that hurt?â€ when someone lands a leg kick. Â You canâ€™t fault them, they just donâ€™t know. Â Right now there are precious few jujitsu schools in China. Â China Top Team is ahead of the curve, bringing in Team Quest wrestlers to help them up their ground game, but thatâ€™s a grain of sand on a massive beach.. Â The next step in educating the fan base would be to see MMA and Brazilian Jujitsu practiced on a wide scale. Â This might be difficult in such a Kung Fu rich land, but itâ€™s really a scenario of viewership and participation going hand in hand Â As the Chinese fan base gets more interested in MMA, they will naturally want to participate, and as participation increases so will viewership. Â It will take some time but in order to create a lasting market in China, a participating fan base must be created.
Snake Style: Marketing
The NBA was successful in China largely due to Yao Ming, who took an already burgeoning interest in basketball and put a figurehead that everybody could get behind on it. Â MMA needs to do the same, but it also needs a strong organization or organizations to promote the sport as well as the players. Â The NBA has the advantage of being the only â€œseriousâ€ professional basketball league in the US. Â Right now MMA doesnâ€™t have an overall governing body. Â Itâ€™s a playing field full of competitors using different rules, weight classes, and point systems.
Whatâ€™s needed to light the fire in China is for an organization or organizations to invest heavily into the Chinese market. Â Itâ€™s a tough thing to do because it will require a lot of money but the rewards arenâ€™t guaranteed. Â Being the first successful organization in China will reap a lot of rewards, but even if youâ€™re number 2 or 3 you can still come away with a decent amount of money. Â Thatâ€™s why no oneâ€™s really willing to take the first step. Â The benefits simply donâ€™t outweigh the costs.Â Until now.
The biggest MMA organization in the world is the UFC. Â The UFC puts on an average of 3 shows a month, and has expanded their weight classes to include the featherweight, bantamweight, and announced plans for a flyweight division. Â That means more fights, more titles, and more action. Â It also gives more fighters a chance to showcase their skills, which ideally would lead to more exciting fights, a bigger fan base, and more money in everyoneâ€™s pockets. Â The UFC opened up itâ€™s Chinese website and and office in Beijing back in 2010, but no further developments have been reported. Â This could mean a number of things. Â One thing it could mean is that progress has stalled and the UFC has quietly abandoned the Chinese market for now. Â Another reason the UFC has been mum on China is becasue things are progressing, but itâ€™s too early to report on. Â After the UFC bought PRIDE, everyone was immediately talking about how the UFC should return to Japan for a few shows, eventually making Japan a permanent venue. Â But that took years. Â PRIDE was bought by Zuffa owned UFC back in 2007, and weâ€™re now just about to have the first UFC event in Japan. Â Thatâ€™s 4 years in a culture and country where MMA was already popular, not to mention a country where the UFC has put on shows before.
Doggie Style: Final Thoughts
China is a completely new market, culture, and country. Â Not to mention that all businesses are â€œGovernment ownedâ€, navigating the business waters of the Peopleâ€™s Republic of China can only add to the frustration. Â The people trying to put on MMA shows in China should be patient. Â They should remember that MMA has never been a top-down sport, where you can promote the sport through giant marketing campaigns and superstars. Â Itâ€™s always started out as a grassroots movement, with a few fighters and fans training here and there, eventually garnering interest, and then becoming a viable market. Â Owners should also be patient becasue of the relative newness of MMA. Â Even in potential markets like Japan and Korea MMA organizations struggle to survive.
One things fans can do is support the Chinese MMA scene in any way possible. Â The best way would be to participate in MMA, but thatâ€™s not a viable option for everyone. Â Support Chinese fighters and organizations in any way possible, whether itâ€™s simply clicking â€œLikeâ€ on their Facebook page or buying their t-shirts. Â Just like tai chi, if enough momentum is built up China can easily become the biggest MMA market to date. Â Think of all the untapped potential a population of 1 billion holds. Â More than anything else, as a fight fan Iâ€™m excited to see all of the exceptional Chinese talent waiting in the wings for their chance to put on those 4 ounce gloves, and Iâ€™m sure you are too.
Authored by Michael Ahn