China is regarded by many as the spiritual home of martial arts and while Sanda is still the fight sport of choice, interest in mixed martial arts is growing. RUFF is the first first ever government approved promotion there and is in the process of putting on a tournament which will see national champions crowned with one million RMB on the line for the winner in every weight class.
The favorite for the 135-pound bracket will be Jumabieke Tuerxun who has a perfect professional record of 12-0 and was recently crowned the Legend FC bantamweight champion, a title he immediately vacated in order to compete to be crowned national champion by RUFF.
His stellar record has already brought him to the attention of some major promoters in the US bur for the time being he prefers to compete domestically.
"I had an offer from Bellator but due to contract details my coach decided to turn them down. I was not contacted directly so I am not 100% sure of what was offered and being negotiated. I watch UFC and think they have some very good fighters and fight events. I wish I can improve my training because I believe I can fight at that level."
Like most Chinese mixed martial artists, Jumabieke has a background in wrestling and Sanda. He is based at the X'ian Sports Institute which is home to the biggest stable of MMA fighters in the country and is currently being coached by one of the most experienced fighters in the region.
"I have been learning MMA since 2008, almost five years. I first started wrestling freestyle at X'ian Sports Institute on the provincial team then in 2008 I switched to Sanda. I use to train under Bao Li Gao in Xin Jiang and then moved to X'ian to train under Coach Zhao Xue Jun."
The biggest question mark hanging over almost any Chinese fighter is whether their ground game will ever evolve to the point where they are able to compete at a UFC level. China Top Team had Ruy Menezes, a BJJ black belt, but he was one of only a handful of elite level grappling coaches in the entire country.
Jumabieke was one of the fighters to benefit when the Team Quest trainers came to X'ian for a few weeks last year but this was only a temporary arrangement. Fortunately the camp seems to have found a more permanent solution, appointing one of the most experienced fighters in the region.
"Now I am doing some ground training with Vaughn Anderson. We have had BJJ trainers come in and give us some training before but not for long times, only short classes."
Anderson's record stands at 16-1-1 and he is Ole Laursen's long term training partner. His proficiency in Mandarin makes him the ideal person to take the team of primarily Sanda based fighters at X'ian and turn them into all round mixed martial artists.
Jumabieke still continues to compete in Sanda occasionally but his focus is switching increasingly towards the sport of MMA.
"Sanda events are very popular in China and there are a few TV stations that host events thus it is where we make most of our money from. However I am spending less time on Sanda now and more on MMA as there are more events coming up."
His status as the number one bantamweight in China was confirmed in February when he defeated China Top Team's Honggang Yao in Macau winning the Legend FC belt in the process. It was the second time the two had met but Jumabieke was far from satisfied with his performance.
"I had beaten him before during an Ultimate Wrestle event in 2009 so I knew what I was facing. The second time we fought I think I did not do well as before because I was injured from a previous fight a week before."
However Honggang, whose only other loss was to Jiang Long Yun is not the toughest opponent 'The Wild Wolf' has ever fought. That honor goes to a fighter he might well find himself facing for a third time if both progress in the RUFF Bantamweight Tournament.
"Irshaad Sayed is the most difficult opponent I have faced. He defended very well from my takedowns and is a very strong striker with very powerful kicks. I have fought him twice already, in a cage and in a ring. I caught him a few times with chokes however he was able to hang on and fight it off."
The RUFF tournaments are open to fighters of Chinese nationality and foreigners in China who are in possession of a valid work permit. Winning would change Jumabieke's life and he already knows what he wants do do with the prize money.
"I want that money and if I do win first thing is I want to give some money to my parents and my dream is that I can go to USA and train and improve my MMA skills."
At just 27 years old he has plenty of potential to improve and points out that he is actually much more experienced in MMA terms than his documented record would suggest.
"I have 26 MMA wins and I have fought in Ultimate Wrestle, Legend, RUFF, Bojiwang, Beijing's Forbidden City, Ultimate Combat.. some of the smaller events I cannot even recall."
Jumabieke's fight with Yadong Song is the co main event at RUFF 4 this Saturday night in Hohhot, China. Also on the card are Irshaad Sayed, Wang Guan and Rijiragala Amu.
Credit to Bill Eng for photography and translation.