UFC Iran and the Remarkable Expansion of Asian MMA


When I first began to take a serious interest in mixed martial arts (MMA) around eight years ago (yes I am prepared to admit I didn't get into it by watching UFC 1), I remember seeing something which I assumed was a spoof called 'UFC Iran.' The person making the posters seemed to have deliberately set out to violate as many copyrights as possible, this one is my personal favorite.

The fact that the website is still going strong would seem to indicate that the UFC, a company which is known to protect its brand at all costs, is not taking it too seriously either. Visit the website and see for yourself, it all seems a bit, well, Borat.

Regardless of whether UFC Iran is real, and I am very much keeping an open mind, my reaction to it has completely changed. In 2004 I sniggered but in 2012 I want to know who the fighters are, what type of martial arts background they come from and whether any of them would be ready to step up and fight for a major international promotion.

The explosion in Asian MMA has only really occurred in the last couple of years but it is gathering momentum at a quite remarkable speed. Take Kuala Lumpur for instance, the capital city of Malaysia didn't even have any schools or academies teaching MMA in 2010, now there are four camps there, Muayfit, Leverage MMA, Majestic MMA and Sparta Muay Thai & MMA which are all mainly MMA orientated.

To the best of my knowledge there had not been an MMA event in Malaysia before 2010. I am sure that locals could correct me on this point but I am not aware of anything listed on Sherdog. In the last 12 months there have been at least nine, most of them hosted by Malaysian Fighting Championship.

In neighboring Thailand, MMA is going from strength to strength and it is not just amongst tourists who visit camps like Tiger Muay Thai, Legacy Gym, 301 Muay Thai, Phuket Top Team or the recently constructed Team Quest. Thai universities are also starting to offer MMA training and put on MMA fights with barely a foreign face in sight.

DARE Championship is only four events old, it would be five were it not for last year's flooding in Bangkok, but is already a promotion which exudes stability. Tiger Muay Thai was the first camp to set up shop and is extremely successful but many more are following in its footsteps and Thailand is becoming a training destination of choice for many of the world's best mixed martial artists.


The UFC Iran champion shows off his belt

Countries such as India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka all have their own domestic promotions. Whether the SFL's attempt to combine Bollywood and combat sport is a success remains to be seen but Full Contact Championship, Pak Fight Club and Colombo Fight Night are hopefully here to stay.

The Middle East also has Dessert Force in Jordan and the recently formed Dubai Fighting Championship while China has Ruff, which is going from strength to strength, Legend FC which has been around since early 2010, and plenty of Chinese run promotions.

The Philippines only has one promotion, although Guam's PXC does put on the occasional card there. The URCC has been around for an entire decade and it's owners will have witnessed first hand the recent growth which has occurred elsewhere as some of it's champions like Eduard Folayang and Kevin Belingon have gone on to become internationally acclaimed.

Nowhere has the explosion of interest in MMA been more spectacular than Singapore. It is home to both the biggest promotion and the most successful mixed martial arts academy in Asia. Neither Evolve MMA nor ONE Fighting Championship existed in 2007 but both are now world renowned multimillion dollar businesses.

Japan once led the way but it is now in danger of being left behind, Dream doesn't have a show scheduled and has been eclipsed in Asian MMA by ONE FC which will be putting on events in at least four different countries this year. Everywhere else things seem to be happening at a remarkable rate of speed with dramatic developments occurring every week.

There have even been professional MMA events held in Afghanistan, although admittedly not organized by locals. The sport is spreading so fast in Asia that even the UFC cannot keep up and for all their talk of breaking into new territories they don't have a single event scheduled to take place in this continent at present.

That leaves the market wide open for a pan Asian promotion such as One FC to step in and capitalize as well as giving the numerous domestic promotions plenty of time to build a local fan base without having to worry about competing directly with the most successful MMA organization in history.

When I first heard about UFC Iran I was sure it was a joke. I still don't know whether it is real or not but the idea that there might be a professional MMA promotion putting on events in Iran doesn't seem so funny anymore.

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