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UFC to take big swing in Chinese market

Updated: 2013-11-30 07:40
By Sun Xiaochen ( China Daily)

With the upcoming Chinese debut of its blockbuster reality TV series, the Ultimate Fighting Championship is taking dead aim at what could potentially be its most lucrative market.

A sold-out crowd for the first live UFC event on Chinese soil at the Venetian Resort & Casino in Macao last November indicated the mixed martial arts organization could expect an overwhelming response as fans gained more insight and appreciation for the sport.

Featuring Chinese fighter Zhang Tiequan's home debut, the card at Cotai Arena attracted a viewership of 25 million on multiple TV and Internet platforms across China. On-site beer and merchandise sales also set records.

"It was really a smashing success and definitely lived up to all expectations," said Mark Fischer, executive vice-president and managing director of UFC Asia.

But that first show was just the proverbial toe in the water toward China's mainstream sports fans embracing UFC.

To feed its growing Chinese fan base on a regular basis, the organization has launched a domestic edition of The Ultimate Fighter, a reality TV series aimed at delivering more value beyond its eye-catching physical appeal.

"It really tells a lot of things about the drama, the training, the personality and the humanity behind the sport. All of that is part of the show. The human interaction behind the sport will touch people," said Fischer.

The 12-episode series, set to premiere on Dec 7, will see 16 Chinese fighters live in the same house, train together and fight against each other in a weekly format to win a six-figure contract with the UFC.

Zhang, who made his UFC debut in February 2011 and owns a 1-3 record, will be involved as a coach.

Co-produced by UFC and Liaoning Radio Television, the series will be available to more than 830 million viewers on Liaoning satellite TV. The live finale to determine the inaugural winner will be held at Cotai Arena in March.

Zeng Shaowu, deputy chief editor of LRTV, said the series will highlight the country's deep roots in martial arts while painting up-close and personal portraits of the Chinese fighters.

"With LRTV's top production teams working alongside UFC crews, the Chinese audience will see a localized approach that emphasizes the fighters' personal stories," he said.

Fischer, a former NBA China executive, said the octagon combat sport isn't for everyone, but he is confident true fans will remain loyal through its growing stages in China.

"What is important for us is to educate people and expose a wider audience to all the positive qualities of UFC, such as discipline, sportsmanship and camaraderie. The sport is a physical chess match. Once people understand (the sport), they also understand what great character the fighters have. That is why UFC has developed a global fan base."

While Fisher has no delusions about UFC eventually matching the NBA in terms of popularity in China, he believes a homegrown fighter could emerge as an ambassador for the sport, much like Yao Ming did for basketball.

"Going forward, we will have athletes becoming household names in China. It may take a few years because the sport is developing here, but it is going to happen, that's for sure," said Fischer, who played a key role in enticing Yao to participate in the 2002 NBA Draft.

"One of the main purposes of the show is not only to develop talent here but to create and inspire ways for fighters to join the UFC," he said.

Meanwhile, UFC will continue bringing live fights to Asia under a new multi-year partnership with Sands China Ltd.

Beginning next year, the UFC will stage a series of live events at The Venetian Macao and Marina Bay Sands in Singapore.

(China Daily 11/30/2013 page15)

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