The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the world’s foremost Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) tournament, will make its Chinese debut in Macao tonight, with Mongolian-Chinese fighter Zhang Tiequan carrying the expectations of 1.3 billion people on his shoulders.
The emergence of Zhang, an expert in the Chinese marital art of sanshou, would help local fans identify with the sport and ultimately build momentum in what could be a massive market for the UFC, [said Mark Fischer, head of UFC Asia].
“The UFC has tremendous potential in China. For many people, China was the birthplace of martial arts so when one of their own won in such exciting fashion it was watched over and over by millions of people,” Fischer said.
Zhang forced Jason Reinhardt to submit with an air-tight guillotine choke hold just 48-seconds into their featherweight match in Sydney last year, a victory that was watched over 100 million times in China.
Fischer was involved in marketing the NBA in China. American basketball is, you may have noticed, quite popular over here.
While Zhang, who is facing Jon Tuck from Guam, is the only Chinese fighter on Saturday’s card, Fischer said the sport needed time to take root in China and that one of the UFC’s key growth drivers in the region was to “build local heroes”.
Brian Hemminger at MMAmania predicts that Tuck, who is currently undefeated but has never fought in the UFC, will prove a tough challenge for Zhang, but that home crowd advantage and Zhang’s experience in the tournament might provide an edge for the Chinese fighter.
Zhang himself appears to be quietly confident about his chances in Saturday’s match:
“China is the birthplace of all martial arts, but this sport, where all the arts are mixed, is just beginning to take root there. You could say that I’m the first real Chinese mixed martial artist,” said Zhang, who transferred from wrestling to the Chinese martial art of sanshou before turning to MMA.
UFC Macao begins at 22:00 CST (14:00 GMT, 09:00 EST) and will air live on numerous UFC broadcast partners in Asia and globally, as well as FUEL TV.