Hatsu Hioki recently turned down a shot at Jose Aldo's title, Chan Sung Jung is rapidly moving up the queue of featherweight contenders and Yushim Okami got as far as a fight with Anderson Silva but couldn't dethrone the dominant Brazilian.
Asian fighters are in the UFC mix in a way they weren't a few years ago but the ones which are reaching the rarefied position at the top of the organization's rankings are still the exception rather than the norm.
There are a few factors behind this and it is worth noting that the UFC do not have a monopoly on the best Asian fighters with the likes of Tatsuya Kawajiri and Shinya Aoki contracted to promotions in the ONE FC Network.
One of the main reasons that mixed martial artists in the Americas have overtaken their Asian rivals is that the standard of training there had eclipsed anything available in the East. However there has been a shift in power in the last couple of years and there are signs that the situation might be changing.
If a UFC champion is to emerge from Asia, these are the camps which are most likely to produce him:
Evolve MMA is home to some of the best fighters in Asia, including the likes of Shinya Aoki, Eddie Ng, Zorobabel Moreira, Leandro Issa, Rafael dos Anjos, and several others. While Evolve MMA is still a young academy from a global standpoint, I think that it is the most likely place in Asia to produce a UFC champion in the long run because it has a decorated team of trainers in every discipline and is at least on a par with the top camps in the US and is head and shoulders above anywhere else in Asia.
The camp combines the best of East and West with a dozen BJJ black belts from Brazil, around 20 Muay Thai champions from Thailand, a couple of boxing champions from Thailand and a couple of elite level wrestling coaches from the US. Its Wrestling and MMA Programs are run by US Olympian Heath Sims, a long time coach and training partner of UFC title contender Dan Henderson.
Head coach Chatri Sityodtong, himself an experienced Muay Thai fighter with a blue belt in BJJ, believes that the key to building a successful MMA team is to break the sport down into its component parts and find the best coaches and trainers in each area. He was voted as one of the top coaches in the world in 2011 by MSN, the only other MMA coach to make the list was Greg Jackson. The coaching staff at Evolve MMA already has extensive experience in the UFC, ONE FC, DREAM, Pride, Strikeforce, Bellator, and other top MMA events.
A lot of top Asian fighters head to the US to train, Hioki has spent time at Tristar and Okami at Team Quest, but Evolve MMA has reversed that trend with both former UFC champion Rich Franklin and Bellator champion Ben Askren travelling to Singapore specifically to train with the team of world champions there recently.
The emphasis at Evolve MMA is on recruiting up and coming young fighters with plenty of potential and 6-1Zorobabel Moreira, who fights Roger Huerta at ONE FC: Destiny of Warriors, this weekend is one to watch as is another lightweight, 5-1 Eddie Ng. Another name to look our for in the future is Naruepol Fairtex, a 27 year old Muay Thai champion looking to transition to MMA.
Whether Evolve MMA becomes the first Asian camp to produce a UFC champion could depend on the ability of Hioki or 'The Korean Zombie' to take advantage of their opportunities when, and if, they arrive, but it is only a matter of time until this extraordinary facility in Singapore produces a fighter good enough to win a UFC title.
Korea Top Team
Responsibility for becoming Korea Top Team's first UFC champion rests squarely on the shoulders of Chan Sung Jung. If he doesn't get a title shot, or even if he does and then fails to capitalize it could be a while before we see a KTT fighter in contention because Dongi Yang just got cut by the UFC and if there are any outstanding prospects there they have yet to emerge.
One thing the 'Korean Zombie' has done is to demonstrate that head coach Dong Jin Ha has put together an excellent tram of trainers who are clearly well versed in the ground game. Judo is also a strength of most KTT fighters but it is very rare for foreigners to travel there to train or coach which could hinder the development of the camp and its fight team.
ALIVE Shooto & Jiu-Jitsu Academy
To take a title shot or not to take a title shot? That is the question which Hatsu Hioki faced recently and he decided on the latter course of action meaning that he will have to get past Ricardo Lamas at UFC on FX 4 if he wants a shot at Aldo's crown.
He is still potentially only two wins away from becoming the first fighter from the Tokyo based camp to wear a UFC belt but overcoming Lamas and Aldo is no easy task. If Hioki falls short at one of the final hurdles the only member of the Alive team currently on the right track is Takasuke Kume, a Shooto fighter who is 13-1-4 and riding a seven fight sin streak.
X'ian Sports Institute
China Top Team is the other renowned camp in the country but X'ian is home to an enormous number of fighters and, whereas Tiequan Zhang is now 1-2 in the UFC and appears to be on the way down, a couple of the X'ian fighters are clearly heading in the opposite direction.
Jumabieke Tuerxun is 12-0 and the reigning Legend FC Bantamweight champion is still only 26 years old as is his team mate Wang Guan, a Sanda champion who is 8-0-1with seven of his eight wins coming by way of stoppage. The quantity of promising young fighters learning MMA at X'ian make it conceivable a UFC champion could come from here although the lack of high level BJJ coaches could be a hinderance.
A year ago Team Lakay in Baguio would have been nearer the head of the list but a few of its fighters have suffered disappointing losses recently. Kevin Belingon's perfect record was spoiled by Masakuze Imanari, Eduard Folayang suffered a controversial decision loss against Ole Laursen and Honorio Banario also lost for the first time against Bae Young Kwon.
Belingon is only 24 years old and has a respectable 9-1 record, a drop down to 125 lbs will improve his chances while 10-0 flyweight Rey Docyogen is definitely on the right track, although at 5"3' he is on the small side. Coach Mark Sangiao has done an amazing job finding local fighters and turning them into world class talent and in the next few years we could see some of them making their way into the UFC.