Led by Mark Fischer, the EVP and Managing Director of UFC Asia, the world's biggest MMA promotion has been making inroads on making a larger footprint in Asia. UFC 144 in Japan marked the first time they have returned to Asia in over 12 years. They've followed that up with a successful show in Macau last November, and yet another Japan event this coming weekend, and it looks like they're not planning on stopping.
Fischer spoke to MMA Junkie about their Asian expansion plans, and according to him, they're planning on increasing the number of Asian events this year:
"We're obviously coming back to Japan and we want to come back to Macau, and I think we want to add two more to the schedule and really go from there. We're looking at trying to do four this year. We would like to move to maybe five or six next year... We want to see how each thing goes and build from there. There's tremendous demand. It's really just a question of putting the resources together and applying that against the demand the best we can.
Dana White has stated that they've secured a bigger deal with Macau, so aside from that and Japan, what are their other candidates for their next Asian event? Here's what Fischer said:
Mainland China and Korea are definitely in consideration. In addition, we're looking at several markets in Southeast Asia. For example, without committing, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Singapore are all in contention for where we may go. Again, there's a lot of demand from all of those places.
Here's a quick breakdown of the potential of these countries mentioned:
Mainland China: China-based promotion, RUFF and Legend FC in Hong Kong, are both contributing more awareness on the sport, but overall, the market in Mainland China still isn't ready for MMA or the UFC. The Macau event late last year was a good first step, and a follow up show this year could also do great things in introducing more and more people to the sport. That being said, unless they draw massively larger numbers in their follow up in Macau - which is an easier market - I don't think heading to the mainland would be the right move for the immediate future. Although obviously, the large untapped market in China still makes it a very attractive market and a high priority for the promotion.
Indonesia: As I wrote for MMA Fighting back in November, the UFC has already secured a deal with MNC Media. They've been planning a show in Indonesia for quite some time now, so it is likely that it could happen this year. In terms of talent and awareness, overall it isn't on the level as others in the region. They don't have much history when it comes to MMA, but they do have a few very talented fighters such as Fransino Tirta (14-0), who has drawn interest from the UFC. Unfortunately, he hasn't been active recently and is on contract limbo with Legend FC, as the Hong Kong-based promotion seems dead set on not letting him go.
Either way, they have a good partnership with MNC, and that alone can very well lead to a UFC event soon.
Philippines: The Philippines has been ready for a UFC event, in fact a show there is quite overdue already. Apart from already having broadcast partners and a potential venue, that according to a conversation I had with Fischer, they "really like", the country is also has a rabid fanbase that is crazy about MMA and combat sports. They also has a large stable of high level fighters, and this is also why several top Asian promotions such ONE FC, URCC and PXC regularly find success hosting shows in the country.
UFC stars such as Georges St. Pierre, Chuck Liddell, B.J. Penn, and Brandon Vera were all mobbed by fans on separate open workouts during the past few years. Next month, Mark Munoz will do the same, and it is also expected to draw thousands of fans, just to see him hit the pads. The country is more than ready for the event, so giving them the show they promised years ago would be a very good choice for their next expansion.
Korea: Like the Philippines, this market is ready both in terms of the country already being educated about MMA, and having the talent to fill up the card. Korea has a rich combat sports history, and apart from already having several Korean's on their roster like Chan Sung Jung, Dong Hyun Kim, Hyun Gyu Lim and others, there are also numerous UFC caliber guys out there such as Legend FC champion, Bae Myung Ho, and 21 year old prodigy, Doo Ho Choi, and ONE FC Champ, Soo Chul Kim.
The only factors that could prevent this is if they hit a snag on the business side of things, but overall, the country is a prime canditate.
Thailand: They do have a rich history in combat sports especially with Muay Thai, but the country is still very new to MMA, and the general public isn't really aware about the sport yet. Promotions such as DARE had hosted a few shows in the past, but that's before the country enforced their 'ban' on cagefighting. They've settled for hosting underground events, while others simply had pro bouts and events within the confines of their own gyms as a work around. These reasons make it unlikely for the UFC to immediately host a show there, although like a lot of the areas in Asia, "banned" may just mean that not enough hands have been greased properly.
Singapore: This country may not have a huge population, or the amount of talented fighters that other Asian countries have, but what they do have is a market full of people with deep pockets and are willing to spend. That is their main advantage, but so is awareness, which is growing at a rapid pace. There hasn't been much MMA in the country just a few years ago, but with the Singapore-based promotion ONE FC growing at a crazy pace since their inception back in 2011, the country is really becoming a very attractive market for MMA.
Like the Philippines, Singapore is also one of the more diverse and westernized locations in Asia. This factor also helps in that it can be treated more or less like a US event where a local draw can help, but ultimately isn't a necessity.