Posted 03/03/2014 by Mike Fagan in Untethered MMA

The Ultimate Fighter: China Review

The UFC China Experiment makes sense on paper. China is an emerging economic powerhouse with well over half a billion people. The government is welcoming international business into the country. There’s a martial arts culture. Taken together, it seems like a situation ripe for an MMA boom.

Saturday night showed that the UFC is going to need to think long-term with China. Previous expansions into the United Kingdom/Europe and Brazil (and Canada, I guess) entered markets with a reasonable baseline of MMA culture. Brazil, obviously, has a history with MMA back to the origins of the UFC, and Europe has produced UFC champions Bas Rutten and Andrei Arlovski in addition to the likes of Michael Bisping, Mirko Cro Cop, Alexander Gustafsson, and others. China doesn’t have a single fighter you could reasonably call top 50.

According to Sherdog, TUF: China finalists Lipeng Zhang and Wang Sai combined for a 12-12-2 record heading into their fight. (The UFC listed them at a combined 14-11-2.) Jumabieke Tuerxun, who some claimed was China’s best MMA fighter, looked out of his element against someone named Mark Eddiva, though Tuerxun was fighting up a weight class for some reason. The UFC previously brought in Tiequan Zhang, who went 2-4 in Zuffa promotions and hasn’t been seen in the Octagon since November 2012. Zhang beat Jason Reinhardt, who followed with a loss to Edwin Figueroa and de facto retirement, and Pablo Garza, who took the fight on three days notice. This is China’s MMA elite.

Presumably, the UFC will use their Chinese fighters exclusively in China and other shows in Far East Asia, but then what? China may be a decade away from producing a legitimate UFC talent. (To quote the UFC’s Asia tsar Mark Fischer, “The NBA has been on TV for 20 years in China before Yao Ming entered the NBA and had that incredible success.”) They payoff may be worth it, but the long, slow growth has a lot of short-run costs.

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Take, for instance, Dong Hyun Kim. Kim, ranked at no. 11, entered his fight with John Hathaway at 9-2 (with 1 NC) in the UFC, with a three-fight winning streak over some solid names: Paulo Thiago, Siyar Bahadurzada, and Erick Silva. A spectacular spinning elbow KO of Hathaway pushed his streak to four, and either Johny Hendricks or Robbie Lawler winning the vacant welterweight title means Kim will finally find himself somewhere in the top ten.

But hardly anyway saw it. Kim, who may be a single high-profile fight away from fighting for the title himself, fought at 9:45 a.m. ET. The UFC will replay the knockout ad nauseam, but it’ll become lost in a stream of other spectacular-looking highlights. There’s something about watching these things lives that helps stick them in our brains.

Of Kim’s four wins, only the Silva fight, co-maining the Maia vs. Shields card, had any sort of prominence. He fought Thiago on the first Macau show and Bahadurzada in Japan, both of which aired on Fuel TV. So, the UFC now has a legit top-ten title contender who has little build in the U.S.

And there’s the cost of running shows in China. The UFC has to offer something resembling a legitimate main event, both to sell tickets to the show and entice people to sign up and watch on Fight Pass. But it means guys like Kim, and Tarec Saffiedine before him, pick up meaningful and empty wins overseas.

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This whole China situation only makes the Ben Askren fiasco look that much worse. At the UFC 167 media scrum, Dana White said, “He’s got some work to do, he can fight in another organization and work his way up and go from there.” So, Askren took a deal with ONE FC in lieu of UFC-approved World Series of Fighting, while the UFC continues to bring in talent far, far below Askren’s level. All because of some meta-game with Bellator.

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The Fight Pass stream looked as good as the Singapore show, though a couple issues popped up. Before the Mitrione-Jordan fight, the stream, as I noted on Twitter, “took a dump,” looking scrambled and buffered for a minute before correcting itself. Then, between the TUF finale and main event, Fight Pass kicked me off. Fortunately, I was able to log back in without issue. Another user had the same problem, and had to log in through three different platforms before finding something stable.

These appear to be minor hiccups rather than chronic issues, but it’s another reminder of a weak product. WWE finally watched it’s digital subscription network, and while it’s had its own launch issues (I still can’t access through my Xbox 360, for instance), users are raving about the product. The WWE Network, at launch, provided users with every single WWF/E, WCW, and ECW pay-per-view, other original programming, Wrestlemania 30, and more. The UFC still has yet to fully upload their own library, has a smattering of Pride, and no Strikeforce. And while the WWE Network has intuitive search and organization, Fight Pass content is still scattered about haphazardly.

Mike Fagan is a weekly contributor to MMA Owl. He also hosts Untethered MMA every Thursday at 7 p.m. ET. Follow him on Twitter

Mike Fagan