You are China’s first ever MMA promoter. What was it like being the first MMA entrepreneur setting up business in China? What obstacles did you encounter?
Being the first person to do something is always a mixed blessing. You’re the first to reap the rewards, but you’re also the first to walk through the fire. There were a lot of obstacles, political and cultural. The biggest problem was just educating the fans about what Mixed Martial Arts was.
So how did you pitch it to them?
Well, we basically marketed it as what it is: the fastest growing sport in the world. We put an emphasis on educating them by telling them that all martial arts can be divided into two categories: those that focus on stand-up fighting—like boxing and karate—and those that focus on ground-fighting or grappling, like wrestling, Judo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Mixed Martial Arts combines both categories, therefore it’s the most realistic form of combat out there. And the best bang for your buck.
Officially you brought MMA to China in 2005 when you held the first Art of War FC event at Beijing Sports University Boxing Gymnasium. Since then you’ve held 15 Art of War events, with the last taking place in Macau’s Venetian Hotel. What’s the key to your success?
We understand our target audience: they’re internet savvy, predominantly male, and between 18 and 35. These guys use the internet to communicate. Art of War FC now has both Facebook and Kaixin pages. I think it’s very important for entrepreneurs to realize that when you come to China, you’re entering the world’s largest online community.
Besides bringing it to China, how else are you helping MMA develop?
What we’re doing here is essentially building an industry, a sport from ground zero. Hopefully, our event will inspire MMA enthusiasts in China to go out and create kind of what the US has right now: a saturation of MMA clothing companies and schools, as well as other promotions. This results in what’s most important: the well-being of the fighters.
Are you telling me that a man who promotes violence can be a philanthropist as well?
I wouldn’t say I promote violence. We want all Chinese martial artists to be able to feed themselves off MMA. We want them to be respected through MMA. We want to provide them with a way to make a living doing what they love. To us, it’s fighters first.
How do professional Chinese martial artists support themselves anyway?
They’re either government sponsored, meaning the government pays their housing and salary—these are the athletes who compete in the China National Games—or, like most of our fighters, they’ve left that system to really test themselves.
Really test themselves?
There’s a distinction to be made here between martial artists and fighters. Every martial artist comes to a point in his life when he asks himself, can I be the best fighter in the world. Because MMA is closer to an actual fight than any other sport, fighters turn to MMA to answer that question.
Chinese people seem to think that martial arts means taking on 20 guys at once. How do you break that misconception?
A lot of people have that misconception, not just Chinese people. Those people need to watch an MMA fight. MMA has a real strange way of breaking people’s misconceptions about what real fighting looks like.
China is widely considered the birthplace of martial arts, yet Chinese people are notoriously squeamish to anything other than Kung Fu demonstrations. What makes you think they’d be interested in a sport as real as MMA?
The most famous Chinese people in the world are Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee. The highest grossing Chinese films to come out in recent years have all been martial arts films. It’s an essential part of Chinese culture.
Did you move to China to bring MMA to the Chinese, or did you come up with the plan while here?
Actually, I came here on vacation, but it didn’t take long for me to see the potential in China.
Chinese MMA star Wu Hao Tian vs. UFC Lightweight champion Frankie Edgar, who takes it?
Tomorrow? Frankie Edgar. Chinese MMA fighters have only been training MMA for the past four years or so. Frankie Edgar has about ten years worth of experience on Wu Hao Tian. Plus, he’s one of the best fighters out there.
You vs. UFC President Dana White?
(laughs) Depends on his ground game.
How steep is the learning curve for Chinese MMA fighters?
I don’t think it’s steep at all. Look at what China did at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The wrestling and boxing teams performed spectacularly. A lot of those guys had only been training four or five years.
What is it like managing and training Chinese fighters?
It’s a little different from training fighters in the West. Most Chinese fighters are former government athletes. Here, you have to provide more than just a salary; you have to provide almost complete support.
Where do you see MMA China in ten years time?
It’s going to be the unofficial official sport of China. Chinese fighters are going to be fighting and beating the best fighters in the world, and becoming national heroes in the process. Mark my words.
In just 15 years MMA in America has supplanted boxing, a sport with a near 200 year history, as the country’s number one combat sport. Are you trying to supplant San Da, Chinese kickboxing, in China?
We’re not trying to supplant anything. Not everybody can be a member of government San Da clubs. What we’re providing is a sport that anyone can participate in.
How well do you think Chinese martial arts translate to MMA?
Some translate almost perfectly, others, not at all.
I‘ll go through a list, and you tell me which ones do and why.
San Da incorporates punching, kicking and wrestling, so naturally it’s highly effective in MMA.
Shuai Jiao, Mongolian wrestling.
Too one-dimensional and uses a gi. There’s no gis in MMA.
Wu Shu and Kung Fu.
Look, it’s not about styles; it’s about how you train. Traditional Wu Shu practitioners spend their time in front of a mirror, making sure their techniques look good. They want to jump high and do back flips. There’s just not enough actual contact in Wu Shu for it to be effective in MMA. I’m sure if I put Wu Hao Tian in a traditional Wu Shu performance event, he’d perform miserably. MMA fighters don’t train to look good, they train to fight.
Which Chinese fighters should fight fans look out for?
All of them. But namely, Dai Shuang Hai, Wu Hao Tian, Ji Xian, and even though he’s not Chinese, Vaughn Anderson.
What’s next for MMA China?
Besides Art of War 16, we’re going to be filming a reality TV show, kind of like The Ultimate Fighter series in the US. Chinese MMA fighters will live together, train together, and fight in a tournament format, with one or two shows airing every episode, to determine who China’s best MMA fighter is.
Art of War vet Zhang Tie Quan is scheduled to become the first Chinese fighter to fight under the Zuffa banner on September 30th at WEC 51. What are your thoughts on that?
I hope to hell he wins. It would be huge for Chinese MMA.
For more info on Andy Pi and Art of War FC visit mmachina.com. Or if you're in the neighborhood, feel free to stop by the Beijing Jiu-Jitsu Academy. Schedule and location can be found at bjjchina.com.
The FanPosts are solely the subjective opinions of Bloody Elbow readers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Bloody Elbow editors or staff.