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If Bruce Lee were still alive, he would have been proud to be sitting in the sold-out Cotai Arena at the Venetian Macao-Resort-Hotel on Saturday night.
Lee, one of the most influential martial artists of all time, would have witnessed a group of Asian fighters competing in the Ultimate Fighting Championships' Macao debut.
The card was designed to tap into the market in China, martial arts' widely-accepted birthplace.
Led by Vietnamese-American Cung Le and Chinese free-combat expert Zhang Tiequan, eight Asian fighters squared off against high-profile westerners with fans cheering alongside celebrities in a crowd of more than 8,400.
Vietnam's Cung Le celebrates his victory over former middleweight champion Rich Franklin of the US in the main event of the nine-bout UFC Macao card at the Cotai Arena in the Venetian Macao-Resort-Hotel on Saturday. Le sent Franklin reeling with a first-round knockout punch to the head. "Just being in China in this Macao UFC event, it's a great honor for me," Le said. Provided to China Daily
Bruised and bloodied, the Asian fighters were proud to compete on their home continent.
"I am a traditional fighter. Just being in China in this Macao UFC event, it's a great honor for me," Le said after knocking out former middleweight champion Rich Franklin with a right hook in the first round of the main event.
"Macao is just a few hundred miles away from Vietnam. I feel like I am fighting in my backyard. I told myself whatever it takes, I will fight here and the audience was so great."
Compiling a 9-2 MMA record since moving from sanshou kickboxing in 2006, Le has become popular in Asia.
"My initial thought on (the Macao event) was that it was an awesome experience. It surpassed our expectations," said Mark Fischer, executive vice-president and managing director of UFC Asia.
"We're going to go back and figure out what's going to be the next step after so much happening this time. China is definitely a long-term target market for us with tremendous potential. We know it's going to take time for us to fully develop. That's where we started it."
The company plans to branch out into neighboring countries.
UFC's first Chinese fighter, Zhang Tiequan, grapples with Guamanian opponent Jon Tuck during their bout at the UFC Macao in the Cotai Arena on Nov 10. Zhang lost to Tuck via unanimous decision (29-28, 30-27, 29-28). Provided to China Daily
UFC will join Indonesia's No 1 media group, MNC, to reach 41 percent of the Indonesian TV market and will bring an event to Japan next March after putting on its first card there in 12 years last February.
"We can surpass expectations and reach a lot of people by bringing the best of our sport to the audience here," Fischer said.
Korean fighter Kim Dong-hyun also thrived close to home, relying on his grappling to defeat Brazilian Paulo Thiago.
A four-year veteran, Kim is familiar with the jet lag that comes from competing in the US.
"I would really love to continue fighting in Asia — I feel proud to be a representative for UFC in Asia," the 30-year-old said. "The crowd's reaction as well as not having to deal with the time difference, I felt really great. Fighting in Asia compared with the US is the difference between night and day to me as far as my physical and mental condition.
"Absolutely, I would love to have a fight like that in Japan, and I'm also expecting UFC to put on a fight in Korea."
Japanese wrestling expert Takanori Gomi, who defeated Mac Danzig of the US, said he would be happy to tackle any big name in Japan next year, but will remain patient as the sport grows in Asia.
Since launching its Asia program in 2010, UFC has signed one Chinese, three Korean and more than 10 Japanese fighters.