This is a guest post by James Goyder
Korea produces more world class mixed martial artists than anywhere else in Asia except Japan. The place which spawned UFC contenders Dong Hyun Kim and Chan Sung Jung should have a thriving domestic scene but despite the wealth of talent continually emerging from Korea fighters there are still struggling to find fights.
Neither Spirit MC nor Neo Fight stood the test of time and at one stage in 2010 the MMA landscape in Korea looked an empty wasteland. That was until the inception of Road FC, the brainchild of former kickboxing champion Moon Hong Jung, which was founded last year and is set to put on its fourth event early next month.
At present it is the only domestic promotion offering opportunities to Korean fighters and for Jung, who is a veteran of seven professional MMA fights, this was the main motivation in founding Road FC,
"I'm trying to give more opportunities to younger fighters, it is hard to get a fight because so many of the Japanese organizations are going down and both Spirit and Neofight in Korea are finished. MMA is getting more popular now in Korea but popularity suffered when Pride went down because Pride was very, very popular. My team mate, Won Jin Eoh, fought in Pride and one of my students, Dae Won Kim, fought Akihiro Gono in Pride. The decline of Pride hurt Korean MMA a lot," he said.
People all over the world have fond memories of the Japanese promotion which made superstars out of of Mirko Crocop and Fedor Emelianenko but in Korea the demise of Pride has left a void which, according to Jung, the UFC has not come close to filling,
"The UFC is pretty popular in Korea but not compared to how popular Pride used to be. People in Korea who are already MMA fans might know who Kim Dong Hyun and Jung Chan-Sung are but everyone in Korea used to know who Fedor was, who Crocop was. Pride did it so well, they were like celebrities. It's not the same today with Georges St Pierre or Anderson Silva," he said.
Japan still exerts a huge amount of influence over Korean MMA because historically it has offered the only realistic route to success. Jung wants create something more meritocratic so that Korean fighters can get to prove themselves by actually fighting against each other instead of just hoping for a chance call from a Japanese promoter,
"I know that Kim Dong Hyun and Jung Chan-Sung are really good but they got picked up after fighting in Japan, they never really competed against good Korean fighters. I want to give all the Korean fighters the opportunity to fight each other so we can see who is the best. I am not saying that Kim and Jung are bad, they are really good fighters, but they were also lucky to get picked up by Japanese promotions. "
The inference is that there are other fighters in Korea potentially capable of enjoying the same levels of success in the UFC and Jung rattles off a quick list of names,
"Some Korean fighters to look out for are Ye Chul Nam who is a top contender at 155, Doo Won Seo, another lightweight and Jae Young Kim, a middleweight, who just got out of the army. He has lost three times to Dennis Kang but that was a long time ago and he is very good right now."
Road FC's fourth event will take place in a 6,000 capacity stadium on Seoul on October 3rd and a middleweight tournament featuring Jae Young Kim will be on the card. The event will be broadcast live on a major cable TV channel in Korea and Jung is optimistic that the venue will be full come fight night.
Denis Kang had faced world class opponents at UFC, Pride and K-1 Heros but discovered to his cost just how high the standard in Korea is when he suffered a potentially career ending loss at the hands of Seung Bae Whi at Road FC 3. The half Korean veteran had been expected to dominate the middleweight division but was brutally knocked out in only his second fight for the organization.
Jung wants to offer more Korean fighters the chance to test themselves against international opposition and is currently negotiating with a number of organizations,
"There are a lot of good Korean fighters who have never been given that opportunity and there are too many good fighters without fights. I want to give fighters more chances to fight in international shows like One FC and Dare and I am also signing some promotional agreements with these organizations. I want to work together with Dare FC and with One FC to help MMA grow in Asia" he said.
A Sol Kwon, Seok Mo Kim and Soo Chul Kim all took on world class opponents at One FC 1 and gave good accounts of themselves despite losing close decisions. Won Seok Jung was more successful, winning at DARE Championship 1/11 and Jung was also in attendance at DARE Championship 2/11 to watch Seok Mo Kim get stopped by outstanding Malaysian Adam Kayoom.
By putting on Road FC events at home and signing promotional agreements with selected international organizations abroad Jung is trying to help Korean MMA end its unhealthy dependence on Japan. He hopes that the loose alliance he is forming will help give more opportunities to fighters and help the sport to develop,
"I hope more Asian promotions come out which last a long time because if shows only put on one event and then disappear it is bad for the fighters. I want to work together with Dare FC and with One FC to help MMA grow up in Asia. I am a fighter not a businessman, MMA is in my heart and I know how it feels to be a fighter and to have a fight cancelled or to lose a contract, it's not just about making money for me."