A British journalist by the name of Peter Foster spoke with Marc Fischer, the man (formerly with the NBA) spearheading the UFC's entrance into China. Foster is wondering if "cagefighting" is something that can really be popular in China. Here's what Fischer told Foster:
As Mr Fischer told me when I met him today, promoting Cagefighting to the masses at least has the virtue of not being too complicated to explain – no tricky rules like in rugby or cricket.
"It’s very exciting and straightforward, it doesn’t take long to explain," he says with a wry smile, "it’s just two guys going at it in a ring."
I still can’t decide quite what China, the spiritual home of martial arts, will make of cage-fighting. My gut instinct says that many people will love it – just as they do in the US where fights attract up to 10m viewers and in the UK where they sell out big venues like the 02 Arena – but that the government will correspondingly hate the idea.
The powers-that-be here are currently waging a Politburo-level campaign against vulgarity in society, tackling everything from salacious gossip in newspaper to dating shows that concentrate overly on the material aspects of matchmaking.
Quite how cage-fighting, a sport that former US presidential candidate John McCain described as "human cockfighting" will fit into the harmonious, high-brow civilized Chinese society that President Hu Jintao envisages for the new China, I’m not quite sure.
Mr Fischer says that he and his organization are "cognisant of these issues", hinting that the marketing for China will be a more subdued and a bit less blood-spattered than in the rest of the world, but then blood is part of the attraction, right?
UFC has already started grooming the first Chinese cage-fighting stars – a fighter called Tiequan "The Mongolian Wolf" Zhang is scheduled to make his debut in the US at the end of the month.
Even so, I suspect that an Asian version of cage-fighting will have to be carefully managed. I’m not sure how the Chinese public would react to one of their own getting beaten to a pulp a square-jawed American beefcake or – even worse – a Japanese one.
Leaving aside the issue of issue of how popular MMA and the UFC can be in China, I'm more intrigued by Fischer's description of MMA.
Clearly part of what he's suggesting is true. I personally think the UFC overstates the mobility of their own product across cultures, but there is something to the idea that fighting - in one form or another - has both roots in China and is generally an act where a winner and loser can be discerned.
However, that's looking at from a perspective so macro that the view loses sight of important details. The Chinese populace might warm up to the UFC product or they may not. At this juncture we cannot know, but if the UFC is presuming that their product is transportable because it's easily understood, that seems troublesome.
MMA is not easily understood. Understanding it means more than identifying a winner or pointing out a loser. Even that can often be very difficult and the process of accurately determining as much is still incomplete even in the most savvy circles. Beyond that, though, there is the issue of understanding the ability to conduct the sport safely. There is also the tricky cultural question of whether a style of fighting that frankly is bereft of Chinese influence is palatable. Dana White hypes the Bruce Lee connection, but not only is Lee's connection to MMA tenuous, Lee was as much American as Chinese. The idea of incorporating disparate elements from a variety of disciplines, cultures and people to produce something new - for better or worse - is the expression of an American ideal. That was not something his Chinese peers encouraged.
It's by no means a given that because the Chinese have appreciation for Wu Shu and Kung Fu that they therefore will like triangle chokes and kata-gatame. They are similar, sure, but only from a macro perspective. One wonders if closer examination reveals key fault lines that could make market penetration a much greater ordeal.