Asian mixed martial arts (MMA) is increasingly attracting the attention of the world with UFC, ONE FC, Road FC, WSOF, and others working aggressively to grow the sport in Asia. Needless to say, momentum is building feverishly and the future is bright for fans, fighters, and everyone else on this continent.
Here are some of the movers and shakers who are going to be setting the agenda for Asian MMA over the course of the next 12 months.
The ONE FC head honcho rapidly built his promotion into the biggest in Asia with a shrewd strategy which has involved forming alliances with various gyms and organizations across the continent and beyond, the most recent being M-1 in Russia.
ONE FC is the only promotion in the history of Asian MMA which has a proven appeal which has transcended borders and allowed Cui to hold events in Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines with countries like Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Cambodia also on the agenda in 2014.
Even at its peak, PRIDE FC was never able to put on events anywhere in Asia except Japan, but ONE FC has built up the market in numerous countries and recently signed a free-to-air TV deal in Malaysia, whose capital city will play host to an upcoming March card, typical of Cui’s approach to building MMA from the grass roots up.
Mark Fischer is the man charged with leading the Asian expansion of the seemingly unstoppable juggernaut that is the UFC. The Las Vegas headquartered organization has already put on one sold out show in Singapore this year with a TUF: "China" Finale in Macau scheduled for next month.
Those shows are both part of a lucrative long-term deal which has been struck with the Sands Group and further events in both The Venetian and Marina Bay Sands casino resorts are inevitable. Where the UFC heads next in Asia is more of a mystery. 2012 saw the organization return to Japan while South Korea, Indonesia and the Philippines have also been touted as potential future destinations.
TUF: "China" was the first venture into Asian territory for the reality TV show and further shows could be in the pipeline with the Philippines and India having both been mentioned as possible filming locations. The world’s biggest promotion is looking to expand aggressively in Asia and Fischer is the man responsible for making it happen.
Moon Hong Jung
When a Japanese fighter gets cut by the UFC they are increasingly likely to head to Korea with Moon Hong Jung’s Road FC having snapped up Riki Fukuda, Motonobu Tezuka and Michihiro Omigawa with 135-pound champion Kyung Ho Kang and 155-pound champion Yui Chul Nam moving in the opposite direction.
Road FC plans to put on 15 events in Korea this year and have already held one, with Fukuda making a successful promotional debut earlier this month (watch it), with another coming up in early February. Jung also has ambitions of holding events in Japan and has a strong relationship with ONE FC which helped Soo Chul Kim secure a shot at the inaugural bantamweight belt.
Chatri Sityodtong is the multimillionaire entrepreneur who runs several companies, including Evolve MMA, the most prominent training camp in Asia. It is home to the likes of Shinya Aoki, Rafael Dos Anjos, Ben Askren, Jake Butler, Leandro Issa, Eddie Ng, and many world-class fighters. Evolve MMA also boasts the most number of world champions across multiple martial arts of any organization on the planet.
Chatri was instrumental in Askren and Aoki putting pen to paper for ONE FC and also orchestrated Issa’s recent UFC signing. Another one of his companies, Evolve University, the world's largest online university for martial arts, is also a UFC sponsor. With connections around the globe in the sport of MMA and in the world of business, Chatri is a key power broker in Asian MMA.
Antonio Inoki is a former wrestler whose political commitments mean that MMA is more of a distraction than a full time job, but his IGF New Year’s Eve show, which featured Shinya Aoki and Satoshi Ishii, was the biggest of the year in Japan in terms of attendance.
MMA events take place in Japan more regularly than any other country in Asia yet attendances are not improving and the sport seems to be at best in stasis and at worst decline. If anyone can resurrect a show on the scale of PRIDE FC it seems Inoki, who currently sits on the House of Councillors, is the most likely candidate.
Satoru Sayama is the man behind Shooto and VTJ. The latter organization has been consistently putting on some of the biggest cards in Japan at the moment with fights like Kyoji Horiguchi vs Shintaro Ishiwatari and Megumi Fuji’s retirement bout while the former is still going strong after nearly 25 years.
Pancrase CEO Masakazu Sakai recently signed an agreement with World Series of Fighting which will see the American promotion head to Japan in 2014. Founded in 1993, the organization held 16 events last year albeit not on a large scale.
Shigeru Saeki has been the president of Deep since its inception 13 years ago and was also working for PRIDE FC as a public relation’s director in the four years prior to the UFC buyout. Whereas Deep used to be a de facto feeder organization for PRIDE FC and DREAM the demise of both promotions has left it as one of the key organizations in Japan and small scale cards continue to take place every month.
Joel Resnick is the CEO of Ranik Ultimate Fighting Federation (RUFF) which is currently the only significant MMA promotion based in China. It is government sanctioned through the Wushu Federation and last year handed out nearly a million dollars in prize money to its inaugural champions.
Matt Hume is one of Asian MMA’s great survivors. Initially a successful fighter himself he was appointed the rule director and official trainer by PRIDE FC and subsequently accepted a similar position at DREAM. He is now Vice President of Operations and remains one of the most well respected, not to mention well connected, figures on the scene.