When we last left our heroes...I've written a lot about this subject in the past. About where it all went wrong when it comes to 'Asian MMA'. it's far more complicated than a couple of articles could ever do justice, but ultimately the reason for its general decline is likely similar to the American one; lack of stars, lack of interest, and a lack of efficient management.
Zuffa has managed to get certain things right about marketing the sport, so this isn't necessarily a dig at Dana White. It's just that the sport of MMA suffers from inherent limitations, and Asian MMA is an exaggerated version of this, where fighters can sometimes fight for a bag of whey protein as an official winner's prize. Although to be fair, I don't see how that is any worse than mistaking your fighters for Stringer Bell.
Will introducing TUF to an Asian audience alleviate any of this? Obviously not. I worry that the Zuffa brass believes TUF was big because of Stephan Bonnar vs. Forrest Griffin, stand and bang, just bleed, and reality TV. Rather than that TUF was a modest success because you had a slew of quality fighters competing. They've dramatically distanced themselves from their previous formula. And sadly, TUF: China continues their current trend rather than the old one.
Wang "the Boss" Sai will be the favorite going into this one. At 6-4-1, not only is he the one with the winning record, but he's also had international training experience. Though currently fighting out of China Top team, he's spent time at AKA's Thailand gym.
He also has a great response to his thoughts on his opponent on his UFC.com fighter profile (as is customary, UFC.com has a habit of adding fights to a fighter's record). "What do you think about your opponent?" "BEAT HIM". Well said Wang.
His opponent, Lipeng Zhang (6-7-1), has a much more measured response. "But I hope he leaves enough room for my fist, because I'm gonna ram it into his stomach, and break his goddamn spine!!!" Just kidding.
It'll be interesting to see how their careers progress from here. I'm assuming that their names will be bigger than normal draws, so perhaps they can find some proper camps. Both men are relatively young with an average age of 25, so while they're not prospects, they're not veterans either.
What both men can and can't do: I have to condense this one because they're fairly similar. Many Asian fighters fall into this category when it comes to their strengths; fluid movement, and knowledge of mechanics. Sai in particular. He's a well rounded fighter who likes to pop out a quick left kick from his traditional stance and wings a mean right hand when he commits.
Unlike Zhang, Sai has some particularly brutal ground and pound. You can see a bit of the North American influence in his game. A lot of wrestle boxers don't always commit to back control when the RNC presents itself, and instead opt to wing ridge hands to the side of their opponent's head. I describe it like a flaw but it's not. Against top tier fighters, a RNC escape can turn into top control for the opponent. Ground and pound is just a way of being a bit more conservative.
Zhang, like Sai, has some natural power in his right hand. You can see how much he likes throwing it here, where he just lobs it one after another after another after another (after another).
It's easy to see why Sai is the favorite. His strength allows him to power into his takedowns, and once there, he pursues offense well. Zhang has a nice sprawl, but he doesn't have many options once an opponent snatches a single leg. Instead he just tries to stiffen up and hope brute strength overrules technique.
It's the kind of thing you see less talented fighters do.
I know a lot of people will rag on this fight, but it has the advantage of being what should be a decent high octane back and forth battle. It's the TUF 1 equivalent of Sam Hoger vs. Bobby Southworth; you may not ever hear from either fighter again, but they're much better than you remember them (both guys had winning records despite some very tough opponents). I know that sounds like horrible praise (or undeserved depending on your perspective), but these guys will likely stick around, and offer more entertainment than the aforementioned TUF'ers.
X-Factor: There's always the possibility of this right?
In-Fight Soundtrack: Any song about general malaise feels fitting for a fight that will yield....no comments in this thread, few TV viewers, and little if any interest in general.
Prediction: Wang Sai by TKO, round 2.