For the first time since Pride bit the dust Asian MMA is an exciting place to be. ONE Fighting Championship is rapidly becoming the UFC of Asia, domestic shows in Japan such as Dream and Deep continue to put on solid cards and the sport is growing rapidly in places such as the Philippines, China and Thailand.
The pieces in the jigsaw have gradually been coming together for a while. Both URCC in the Philippines and Legend FC in China / Hong Kong have TV deals and do a great job of finding local fighters. DARE Championship in Thailand is growing fast and PRO Fighting in Taiwan and PXC in the Philippines are also putting on regular shows.
Amidst all the negativity surrounding Japanese MMA it is easy to forget that Japan is still head and shoulder above any other Asian country when it comes to putting on MMA shows, it wasn’t that long ago that it was ahead of any country on earth. Up until ONE Fighting Championship arrived on the scene Dream was by far the biggest show in Asia and, although it inevitably suffers from comparisons with Pride, it’s still an asset which Asian MMA can be very proud of.
With all the pieces already in place One Fighting Championship arrived on the scene with a bang, selling over 6,000 tickets to a first show which was also made available to absolutely everyone with an internet connection. Filling such a large venue is virtually unprecedented outside of Japan and One FC is becoming the show which fighters all across the continent will aspire to be on, the UFC of Asia.
It is early days yet for One FC but after conquering Singapore they plan to make a similar impression in countries all across Asia. It will be interesting to see if they can sell as many tickets in cities like Macau, Seoul, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Jakarta but if they can enjoy the same success outside of Singapore it could really accelerate the development of MMA in Asia.
They are not the only organization with ambitious plans. Dare Championships recently announced that an incredible one million US dollars in prize money would be split between the winners of it’s eight tournaments. It is a phenomenal amount of money for an organization which has only put on one show to date to have raised but Dare seem to be in a hurry to get to wherever it is they want to go.
After disappearing from the scene for several months many thought that Legend FC had fallen by the wayside but they were re launched earlier this year after having signed a deal to put on shows in Macau. Legend focus exclusively on Asian and Australasian fighters and have done a good job of bringing through previously unknown fighters, most notably from Korea and China.
Legend and Dare distinguish themselves from the other shows in the region with their willingness to bring in international fighters. Dare flew in two fighters from France for their inaugural show while Legend frequently use fighters from as far afield as Australia and New Zealand.
While the URCC does bring in fighters from overseas with so much home grown talent in the Philippines there is not really a need to look elsewhere. The URCC has a proven track record of being a stepping stone for fighters looking to get into big international shows notably Tiequan-Zhang who went on to star for the WEC and UFC and Eric Kelly and Eduard Folayang who recently made a big impression at ONE Fighting Championship.
PRO (Pacific Rim Organized) Fighting in Taiwan recently put on their first event of 2011 and a couple of fighters from PRO Fighting, Seok Mo Kim and Soo Chul Kim, have gone on to star for One Fighting Championship.
There has understandably been a lot of focus on One Fighting Championship because it’s pan Asian focus gives it the potential to have the same effect on Asia as the UFC has had on North America. It is certainly the one to watch and rumours of an enormous recruitment drive ahead of a second show which is supposedly scheduled for December will only intensify the anticipation.
The one country which One FC might struggle to break into is Japan for the simple reason that there is already such a well established domestic scene. Internationally Deep tends to get overlooked because it plays second fiddle to Dream but it is still one of the top shows in Asia and has a good depth of talent. There is also Shooto although Sengoku appears to have fallen off the face of the earth.
Dream 17 this month will see Japanese MMA stalwarts Shinya Aoki, Caol Uno and Kazushi Sakuraba in action at the Saitama Super Arena while DARE Championship are putting on their second card the same night featuring a mix of fighters from Thailand, South Korea, South Africa, Brazil and Malaysia. October will see Legend return with their second show in Macau which will be headlined by a lightweight clash between Jadamba Naruntulalag and Adrian Pang.
Dream is the only promotion which can compete with One Fighting Championship in terms of stature, their last show drew in just over 8,000 people which is slightly more than the 6,789 which packed into the sold out Singapore Indoor Stadium for One FC 1. The difference between the two is that Dream remains stubbornly focussed on the Japanese market whereas One FC is looking to build with a truly continental appeal.
The UFC are also returning to Japan to put on a card in 2012 although scheduling a show for 10am in the morning to satisfy US television viewers is a sure fire way to alienate potential ticket buyers. It’s an exciting time for Asian MMA, the US is undoubtedly the dominant force in the market but the in the East some quality promotions are starting to spring up.