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Bellator's Vaughn Anderson on Chinese MMA: 'The UFC is not as tempting for fighters here'

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As the coach of China's top Sanda and MMA camp, Bellator fighter Vaughn Anderson talks about the state of Chinese MMA, the appeal of the UFC in the country, and the upcoming fighters to look out for.

Fighter, coach, and commentator. Here's Vaughn Anderson interviewing Legend FC champion Ji Xian
Fighter, coach, and commentator. Here's Vaughn Anderson interviewing Legend FC champion Ji Xian
Photo by Anton Tabuena

Most fans in North America who would just run through the Bellator 100 card would only notice Vaughn Anderson as this Canadian with a 16-1-1 record who is up against the always controversial Jon Koppenhaver, or War Machine. What they're likely to fail to realize though, is that he is actually one of the pioneers of MMA in China.

It's understandable though. While this fighter they call "Blud" has already accomplished a lot in numerous MMA, Muay Thai, and BJJ competitions, none of them have happened in America.

Born in Manila, Philippines, this fighter spent majority of his life in various countries in Asia, and has made a name for himself as one of the huge figures in China, as a fighter, coach, and even as a commentator. Anderson fought mostly in Taiwan and Mainland China, establishing himself as one of the top stars in the now-defunct Chinese promotion Art of War along side Chinese legends Ao Hailin and Bao Li Gao. Although he walks around as a welterweight, he moved on to compete mostly against much larger opponents, even winning the PRO FC Heavyweight Grand Prix by beating three men in one night.

Apart from being a fighter, Anderson also balances multiple hats. He's a color commentator for the Hong Kong-based promotion Legend FC, and more importantly, he's also now living in Beijing as a coach at China's top Sanda camp in Xian Sports University. This is a team, who under his tutelage, has quickly established themselves as the best MMA camp in the region.

"I was looking for a way back to China at the time the Sports Uni was looking for a coach. The timing was just perfect," Vaughn said as he spoke to about his coaching position in China, "I am one of 4 coaches for the Xian Sports University Sanda Team, and my job is to fill in the pieces that Sanda fighters need to be complete in MMA. It's basically submissions, ground and pound, and fighting off the cage, and I also corner these MMA fighters."

"It's a big responsibility. The Sanda program is one of the most successful of all time in China, so naturally I want the MMA program to be at least as successful. I am very proud of the team's MMA success and my contribution to it."

With Sanda or San Shou's popularity in the country, the common thinking is that it could be a hurdle to MMA, but Anderson disagrees with that notion.

"I don't see sanda hurting MMA development too much," he said, "In comes cases, yeah, it gets in the way competing for the same talent and audience, but to me it's more of a gateway to bringing fighters and fans in touch with this 'new thing' called MMA."

The camp has produced several huge MMA stars with this Sanda base, such as RUFF champions Wang Guan (12-0) and Zhang Meixuan (6-1) along with Jumabieke Tuerxun (14-0), who is the latest Chinese star to sign with the UFC. He has yet to make his debut with the world's top promotion, but Anderson thinks that moving to the UFC's talent rich bantamweight division will only help his pupil elevate his game to new heights.

"Bieke needs bigger challenges. It will be great for him to fight in UFC and will push him to get even better," he said, "I feel he is plateauing a bit in Asia where there's no threat to even a relaxed version of Bieke. I feel he could go very far in UFC and I look forward to cornering him through many wins there."

MMA is currently growing at a rapid rate in China, with multiple promotions hosting shows in the area, and several others trying to break in to the market, including the UFC. While other countries have had roadblocks to their development from politics and other factors, Anderson says one of the key factors to this growth is the support they get from the government.

"As a foreign athlete choosing to live in China, it is obvious that I feel it's the best place for athletes to develop. MMA is still new in China and most people don't know what it is, but at this early stage, the small MMA community there has already produced great fighters," he continued, "It's a place where government and society respect and support athletes. Honestly, I expect Chinese MMA to be a powerful force internationally in just a few years from now. Other countries, Asian or not, just don't have the same momentum for sport."

Seeing this development and potential, the UFC has been dead set on penetrating the market. They've hosted UFC: Macau late last year, and they're set to film The Ultimate Fighter: China in Beijing with athletes coming from different areas such as Singapore, Hong Kong, Macau, and the Mainland.

Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar worked as a huge catalyst for the sport in the US, although it is yet to be seen if the same formula can be applied to China.

"I am curious to see for myself." Vaughn says, as he talks about the potential of TUF: China, "One major part of TUF's success in the US is the madness filmed outside of the cage. With Chinese fighters more reserved and polite, I'm not sure how they will make this show entertaining."

If done right, TUF could truly be huge for the future of the sport in China. As for the show getting the current batch of top fighters in the country though, that's a completely different story, as most of them are already under contract with various promotions such as RUFF, Legend FC, and others.

"The simple answer is that the UFC will get the second generation of Chinese superstars," Vaughn said, as he spoke about the quality of fighters that they're likely to sign, "Some top fighters may end up in the UFC, but it is tough competing within China. RUFF fighters are extremely well paid, and there are fighters like Wang Sai who are getting 10,000 USD to fight in shows around the country even I haven't heard of."

"Life for a Chinese MMA fighter is a good one. The UFC is not as tempting for fighters here," he says as he talks about the options that are available to the talent in the country.

"There are just a few consistent MMA shows in mainland china, but there are many one-time events or short series that test the market and pull out." he coninues, "Almost none of the Mainland events are recorded on Sherdog too. Look at Bieke for example, he has almost 30 fights with all wins, but they list him as only 14-0 with half his wins not recorded."

Now considering these situations, who would likely be making waves internationally?

"Wang Sai is a good pick. He has tons of fans, kicks a lot of ass, and isn't tied down to any contracts,"

Most people would likely mention Vaughn's pupils in Bieke or Wang Guan, but when asked who he feels are the best Chinese MMA fighters regardless of promotion, he again gives props to a few guys outside his stable.

"I feel Ji Xian is probably the best well-rounded Chinese fighter now. He is already the Legend FC champ and has a lot of grow in him still. He is my first pick for top Chinese fighter after the UFC's Zhang Tiequan."

Be sure to check out for the second part of our exclusive interview with Vaughn "Blud" Anderson, as he talks more about his career, and even responds to War Machine's recent statements with some strong words of his own.

Follow me on twitter -- @antontabuena

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