Ranik Ultimate Fighting Federation (RUFF) is the only government-sanctioned mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion in China and recently made headlines by handing out a million RMB ($163,000 USD) in prize money to each of its first five champions.
Among the men to claim a belt was South African Irshaad Sayed, who was eligible to participate despite not being a Chinese national because he was a longterm resident and work permit holder in Hong Kong. The 24 year old won the 135-pound strap by stopping Chunbo Yuan and has already started to put this career-high payday to good use.
Having spent his entire MMA career competing inside Chinese territory, with the exception of a 2012 ONE FC fight in Jakarta, Sayed felt a real affinity with the place and decided he would donate some of his winnings to a good cause.
"When it was announced that I will be fighting for the RUFF title and the one million RMB, I made a commitment to myself that if I won I would use a portion of the money to help the needy in China. In the end I decided to part with ten per cent of my profit, which amounted to $10,000."
The title fight with Yuan was at RUFF 8 in February, but there was a delay in receiving the prize money as taxes were deducted and so it took a little while before Sayed was in a position to make his donation. With the funds safely sitting in his account, he started looking for the most deserving cause to support.
"The next issue was finding a credible charity in China, after some scouting on the internet and emails I found a cause that I was keen to support. The primary focus of the project I supported was a help educate young children in a village outside Zhaotong, Yunnan Province."
Yunnan is one of China’s undeveloped provinces with more poverty stricken counties than other provinces and around seven million people living below the poverty line with an annual average income of 300 RMB ($49 USD) per month.
Sayed decided to donate the money to build a school in the village and recently returned from a trip to see how the project was progressing where he learned about the hardships of life in rural China.
"At first, these villagers had no running water or electricity and their living conditions were extremely poor. After some years of improvement they are now moving onto building a kindergarten but things we take for granted, like reading and writing, are a privilege in this community."
Six of Sayed's eight professional MMA fights have been against Chinese opponents and he says that visiting an isolated and impoverished community and seeing how people there live has given him an insight into the mindsets of some of the men he fights against.
"After spending a few days with the villagers, you come to realize why the Chinese fighters have such strong will, it's impossible to break them down either in the cage or in everyday life. They are extremely resilient."