UFC veteran Kenny Florian tried not to mix business with pleasure on a recent trip to China. He stuck with pleasure.
“I pretty much was in a casino the whole time,” KenFlo confessed during a recent video interview with Fighters.com.
During the few moments he wasn’t high-rolling in Macao (the Chinese equivalent of Las Vegas), the retired lightweight pondered the future of mixed martial arts in the world’s most populous country.
Florian believes that, with the right motivation and a few breakout Octagon stars, China is poised to be an MMA powerhouse.
Florian’s gambling getaway happened to be in the same city that hosted China’s first ever UFC event — the UFC on Fuel 6 event last September. Although it was held in a relatively small venue in front of a somewhat silent crowd, the event was a successful first foray for the company in China.
More important, it was a step closer toward Dana White‘s bold prediction that MMA will someday be the most popular sport in the world.
Mark Fisher, the UFC’s managing director of Asian operations, told Yahoo Sports: “The rise is happening — it’s just not taking off like a rocket ship yet. But to use the same analogy, we’re a rocket ship but we’re very much in a compression mode where things are building. I think with the right combination of factors, you will see that explosion in the… next three to five years.”
China already had a track record of MMA events before UFC arrived – and, of course, a centuries-old history of martial arts.
The most prominent Chinese MMA promotion, Art of War, promoted 15 events between 2005 and 2009, and reportedly has another in the works. Ranik Ultimate Fighting Federation (RUFF) is newer but operates with government support and holds events on China’s mainland.
Many observers, Florian included, believe MMA is on the cusp of a mainstream breakthrough in China. Cung Le, an American fighter born in Vietnam, is already hugely popular in China, with hundreds of thousands of followers on the Chinese equivalent to Twitter. In 2011, Zhang Tiequan became the first Chinese fighter to win a UFC fight by defeating Jason Reinhardt via guillotine choke submission in the first round.
If even a handful of Chinese-born fighters become dominant in the UFC, it could spark the nationalistic pride needed to make China the UFC hotbed Dana White has envisioned.
“It’s a country that could really be a huge force in mixed martial arts,” Florian told Fighters.com.
Check out the slideshow, MMA in China: 10 Highlights