It's no secret that the UFC wants to tap into that large market in China. The most important thing to accomplish that goal though, is to spread awareness, and in that regard, the UFC has done great things in a short amount of time. They've set up an office in China, and with the leadership of Mark Fischer, they have secured multiple deals to broadcast their product on networks and on various online portals, reaching up to 700 million people in the country.
According to this piece by Kevin Iole, UFC matchmaker Sean Shelby recently spent two weeks in China to scout talent and to make inroads on that goal of eventually finding MMA's equivalent to Yao Ming. His assessment is very similar to how the insiders in the Asian MMA scene see it - great potential with a culture rich in combat sports, but they're not quite there yet with the finer points of the ground game:
"When you see someone like Yao Ming have success on an international level, the whole country stops and watches when he plays. The idea when we went over and assessed the market … we realized there were a lot of great athletes there, but they weren’t up to speed on the different styles of fighting."
Shelby reported that the Chinese fighters were quality strikers, but were lacking in wrestling and jiu-jitsu skills. There were many men whom Shelby watched work out who were athletic enough to be successful fighters in the UFC, but they were primitive in their knowledge of MMA and their training methods.
In an effort to develop this talent, the UFC has brought several top Chinese fighters to train in Vegas. The cast includes Zhang Tie Quan, and a couple of his China Top Team training partners, including top Chinese bantamweight prospect, and current Legend FC champ, Yao Honggang.
They will be training on several of the top gyms in the area, and on the next couple of weeks, they will be working with top coaches such as Fredson Paixao, Robert Drysdale, Ricky Lundell, Jimmy Gifford, Mark DellaGrotte, and others:
The plan, according to UFC CEO Lorenzo Fertitta, is to properly train the Chinese fighters so they can train others in an attempt to tap into the country’s love of martial arts.
... "Vegas is kind of the Mecca of mixed martial arts in a lot of ways," Fertitta said. "We just said, ‘Hey, let’s get them exposure with, literally, the best trainers in the world.’ … They literally will go from gym to gym every day to train and learn different aspects of MMA."
"Really, what this is is an effort to find our version of Yao Ming," Fertitta said. "There’s more than a billion people in China and I guarantee you, somebody there can fight. Our goal is to find that guy.
They're making excellent moves on getting casual fans access to their product, and as for trying to develop the talent in the region, this is definitely a good start, especially for China Top Team. That being said, this is just a start, and sending a handful of guys for a few days in Vegas definitely won't be enough for the long haul.
China Top Team isn't the only good fight team in the area, and some insiders don't even consider it the best in the country. If the UFC is serious about trying to develop talent, which it seems like they are, they should be doing something similar to what Legend FC has done with Xian Physical Education University, but on a much bigger scale.
Legend FC, one of the top Asian MMA promotions sent several members of Team Quest such as Pat Healy and Brad Hannah to one of the biggest camps in the region. They didn't only have them experience a few days of working out with talented coaches, they actually conducted an entire training camp that lasted for several weeks. Team Quest taught several of the best fighters in the country about how an entire high-level training camp should work, so they could get the best practices, workouts, and schedules in order to maximize learning, and peaking on the proper time for a fight.
As a great house for wrestlers, the Team Quest members also taught these Chinese fighters something that most of them should really learn about, the finer points of dieting and cutting water weight. This is a very important move as BJJ and Wrestling aren't the only components lacking from Chinese MMA. There have been too much Chinese and other Asian fighters not knowledgeable about the proper way of cutting weight, with some even walking in several pounds under the contracted limit. This learning is already showing their effects as as several members of the camp have already began dropping down a weight class or two.
Healy and other Team Quest coaches will be flying out again on 2012, but this time they'll be spending much longer time in the country. These kinds of trips will be invaluable to Chinese MMA, as they'll be running not just a few workouts, but entire camps in the same format of those elite teams in the US.
The UFC looks dead serious about trying to develop MMA in China, and while they're already starting out well, they should really do something similar to this, but on a much larger scale. Send several top coaches, teach these guys about the ground game, teach them how to cut weight and how an elite fight team works, and soon enough, they'll use these best practices to run all their fight camps. Not only do you find 'a' Yao Ming, but you will grow a hot bed of all those world class strikers with a developing ground game, and you'll eventually churn out a new generation of MMA stars for years to come.