South Korea has never seemed like a great place to be an MMA promoter.
With the exception of former EliteXC affiliate Spirit MC, most Korean MMA events have crashed and burned, owing to every reason from shady business dealings to legitimate tragedy. In 2005, loose medical standards at nightclub-slash-fight club Gimme Five were alleged to have contributed to Korea's first recorded death in MMA. In August 2009, after much pre-fight bluster, upstart promotion Fighting Mixed Combative (a.k.a. Fighter Mania Championship) went one-and-done when most scheduled fighters refused to participate in the debut show due to non-payment (among other reasons), causing the last-minute cancellation of its TV deal. Just this spring, Dream backed out of a proposed Korean show, and earlier this month, K-1 reportedly drew dismal attendance figures for its single-weekend twin-bill in Seoul.
Moon Hong Jung is looking to buck the trend.
A former Korean national champion in both hapkido and kickboxing, Jung is the head of Team Force, one of South Korea's most prominent fight teams. He's also the man behind Road Fighting Championship, the country's newest promotion, and one which looks to be charting a significantly different course from its predecessors.
The company has declared that it will pay all fighters prior to their bouts at its first event, "The Resurrection of Champions," on Oct. 23 -- a show which, unlike K-1's recent ventures, has already sold out. The Korean celebrities and comedians taking part in the card aren't there simply for novelty; they're actually training to become skilled mixed martial artists. On the surface, Road FC appears to stand for everything which other Korean promotions did not.
Last week, Mr. Jung took some time to answer a few questions for BloodyElbow.com:
How did Road FC come about? What are your ambitions for the promotion?
I hope this is the next step of Asian MMA. We would like to be the role model of a solid MMA promotion in Korea. I was a fighter myself for a long time. I lived in Japan for a few years with some of the first-generation Korean MMA fighters, like Dae Won Kim and Won Jin Eoh, back then. I saw many ups and downs of the fighters, and I know how hard it is for the fighters who can't get fights because there aren't many solid promotions in Asia these days. I have a few businesses of my own, and I always dreamt about having an MMA promotion which is for the fighters. Now, I have a chance to do that, and I really want to give more chances to the fighters, not only so that they can fight, but so they can make a living as a pro fighter.
Who are some of the main players in the promotion?
Some of my main guys... well, everyone is my main guys, but there are some fighters you need to check, too.
Seung Hwan Bang (15-9)
He went to decisions against Takanori Gomi and Jorge Masvidal. That was when Gomi was still knocking everyone out, and Bang really gave him a hard time. Bang will fight in the U.S. soon, too, so you'll get to check him out.
Soo Chul Kim (1-0)
Although he only has one pro fight, it's amazing to watch this kid. His first fight was a title bout in Japan, and he just went out there and outplayed the other guy. He's the current featherweight champion of Rising On, which is an Okinawa-based promotion.
Young Bok Gil (1-1)
Gil is the number one amateur wrestler in Asia. After a few fights, he'll be one of the most dangerous guys in the world.
Recently, Mr. Tanigawa from FEG said that the popularity of MMA and K-1 in South Korea is very low. One reason he gave is the absence of major Korean stars and guys like Hong Man Choi. Do you feel this is accurate? And who could step up to be the next big star?
I think the concern in K-1 is that they are only looking for big events. Sometimes, having large venues is not so good for the promotions. You cannot just have large venues and expect that they're going to be filled with an audience.
About the major stars, my motto is to find the new stars from the sport of MMA. Bringing Olympic gold medalists and fighters like Hong Man Choi helps TV ratings for one time, but it won't last long. I need to make people watch MMA and make them understand what this sport is about. I need to make some stars from South Korea. It will take some time, but I'm very confident, and you will see the next big star from our first event. Check them out.
In the last two or three years, a few promotions appeared which people seemed to think would help jumpstart MMA in South Korea. However, most only held one or two shows, if that. Do you see Road FC as the next "big show" in South Korea, or is the aim to start out on a smaller level?
I would say we start small, but dream big. I'm not going to say our promotion will be the next UFC or something like that. We are more like King of the Cage or Gladiator Challenge. I want big promotions in the U.S., Canada, or Europe to check out our promotion. We want to be the promotion that can send fighters to the major shows. Like I said, I want to give more and more chances to fighters.
Can you tell us about where you’ll hold the first show, how many fans you expect, and how people will be able to view the event?
The first show will be on Oct. 23 at Samsung-Dong, Seoul. We can only have a little more than 500 seats, and I think it's already sold out. It will be one great night of Korean MMA. For now, it's only broadcast in Korea through the Y-Star channel. I'm planning to go global and also thinking about internet TV after a few solid events.
Lastly, are you already planning ahead for future Road FC shows? If so, what do those plans include?
We will have major shows every two or three months, and there will also be a "challeger series." Don't know how many, though.
Give us your attention and support. That will really help the promotion last longer. You will see more and more foreign fighters as we do more and more events.
Recently, I named John Han as the director of Road FC USA. He will help bring many talented fighters from the U.S. to our promotion, and we are planning many surprises for 2011. It will be our year.
Check out our show at www.roadfc.com. Thank you.
Road FC 1
The Resurrection of Champions
October 23rd, 2010
Seoul, South Korea
Ui Cheol Nam vs. Kota Okazawa
Doo Won Seo vs. Akihito Hara
Seung Hwan Bang vs. Daisuke "13" Hanazawa
Seung Yoon Lee vs. Jong Woo Park
Seung Bae Whi vs. Shuji Morikawa
Duk Young Jang vs. Yuki Yamasawa
Woo Sung Yu vs. Keigo Hirayama
Young Bok Kil vs. Jaral Bowman
Hyo Ryong Kim vs. Soo Chul Kim
Sang Il "Samuel" Lee vs. Jae Hoon Yoo