The UFC has long talked openly of their ambitious international expansion plans. They've conquered Canada, blown up in Brazil, done well in Australia, established a beachhead in Britain, struggled on the European mainland and now they're heading to China in 2012.
From MMA Weekly:
UFC President Dana White announced recently that the promotion is close to sealing a deal with the $2.4 billion dollar hotel, the Venetian Macau, which is owned and operated by the Las Vegas Sands corporation, who also handle the Venetian hotel in Las Vegas.
"We're going to do a fight in China. So imagine our first fight in China, we're talking about doing it in conjunction with the Venetian out there. Imagine the first fight in China, it's going to be huge," said White.
"Soon, real soon. It will happen this year."
Zuffa has had a Chinese fighter, Zhang Tiequan, on its roster since 2010. He's got a combined 2-3 record in the WEC and UFC but despite his struggles inside the cage, he's attracted significant fan interest in China. He added 100,000 followers to his Weibo account (similar to Twitter) after his UFC debut.
But the UFC isn't the only player in China. In fact, they won't even be able to put on shows on the mainland (Macau is an island that was long a Portuguese colony and only recently rejoined China) as the government has given that exclusive license to a rival. Josh Gross reports:
...the Chinese governmental division that controls martial arts within mainland China, the Wushu Administrative Center, which recently issued one permit to stage mixed martial arts events as a legal sport throughout the country.
While there were several suitors, including Zuffa LLC, Joel Resnick believes his startup group, the Ranik Ultimate Fighting Federation, was awarded the government sanction because it offered the right "mix between Chinese culture and Western mentality. I think that's really what did it.
RUFF has put on three MMA cards so far and has big plans. From Gross:
On March 24 in Chongqing, a major city in Southwest China, 4,000 Chinese watched a nine-fight card in a sold-out arena. The event was RUFF's first since the company announced its ambitious intentions through the next Chinese new year. Capped by awe-inspiring prize money per Chinese standards, seven National MMA Champions will be crowned. Fighters aren't required to be Chinese nationals, but they must live and have a work permit in China, Hong Kong, Macau or Taiwan. Each winner will receive RMB 1,000,000, the equivalent of about $160,000. The average Chinese household brings in a bit more than $10,000 a year, so the idea is for the siren song of big money to prompt a generation of quality Chinese fighters to quickly emerge.
It will be interesting to see if the combination of RUFF, the UFC, One FC and Legend FC will be enough to kick off an MMA explosion in China.