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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Which Organization Will Become the UFC of Asia?

There has been much news lately in the world of Asian MMA. With all the major changes happening, here is a guide to the largest MMA organizations in Asia.

The title for "UFC of Asia" is currently up for grabs with a couple front-runners and some dark horses in the race.

DREAM Fighting Championship

DREAM is Japan's largest MMA event organization and is home to almost every top Japanese fighter. If it can right its ship, it still has a chance of becoming the "UFC of Asia."

First, it is currently the oldest Tier 1 MMA organization in Asia with a lot of fans around the world. Second, while DREAM FC lost its media broadcast due to financial mismanagement and other Yakuza-related issues, it still has the highest quality talent pool of fighters in Asia.

The fact is that MMA has been in Japan for almost two decades. DREAM FC's most well-known fighter, Shinya Aoki, is a megastar in his home country of Japan. He is a submission wizard and is known to finish fights in dramatic fashion.

Despite all its current woes, DREAM FC still has a good chance of becoming the "UFC of Asia" if it does not run out of money first. If it could raise capital, then it could have a serious run at dominating Asia.

However, it is a big "if," because it is hard for institutional investors to take anything with ties to the mafia seriously.

Nonetheless, the leadership of DREAM FC and the talent pool make it still one of the top MMA organizations in Asia.


URCC is the undisputed King of MMA in the Philippines. Led by power couple Alvin and Bubbles Aguilar, URCC has the biggest brand, the best talent pool of fighters, the most number of events, and the biggest media distribution in the MMA-crazed Philippines. Some of its biggest stars include Eduard Folayang, Kevin Bellingon and Eric Kelly.

Philippines is a nation that is crazy about combat sports; boxing and MMA have legions of rabid fans glued to every TV set in the country for major events.

Surprisingly, URCC has ambitions of holding events in the US instead of other cities in Asia. URCC believes that it can sell out shows in the US by simply catering to the large Filipino expat community in the US. Even with heroes like Eduard Folayang, Kevin Bellingon and Eric Kelly, it is a risky gamble.

As it stands, URCC is a longshot of becoming the "UFC of Asia" without media distribution and the desire from its leadership to do so. Nonetheless, URCC is a Tier I organization in Asia and the King of Philippines.

ONE Fighting Championship

With its media broadcast to 500 million homes, ONE Fighting Championship is the current 800 pound gorilla of Asian MMA. The promotion has generated a lot of buzz around the world due to a few simple reasons.

First, it has the biggest media broadcast in Asia by a very large margin. Any fighter who is fortunate enough to get invited onto the biggest stage in Asia will get to showcase his/her skills in front of 500 million viewers.

Even in their primes, DREAM FC and PRIDE FC only had a media broadcast that was in the tens of millions. ONE FC's media broadcast numbers are mind-boggling.

Second, it is rumored to have US$50m in capital, making it the largest pool of capital in Asia. The fact that ESPN StarSports and MediaCorp would sign up so quickly to be part of a startup MMA organization speaks volumes.

Strong rumours in the region suggest that other Asian media broadcasters are already clamoring to be a part of ONE Fighting Championship.

Third, ONE Fighting Championship arguably has the deepest talent pool of Asian fighters outside of Japan. The organization has managed to round up practically every big name Asian world champion in single disciplines as well as many elite MMA fighters.

Fourth, the leadership of ONE Fighting Championship marks the first time that a true sports media industry veteran is the head of an MMA event organization in Asia.

Victor Cui is a 15 year sports media industry veteran from ESPN StarSports and PGA Tour. He has been responsible for X Games Asia, World Cup Indoor Soccer, Guinness World Series of Pool, and other top Asian events.

As such, ONE Fighting Championship is the current front-runner to take the title of "UFC of Asia."

Legend Fighting Championship

Legend Fighting Championship is the largest MMA organization in Hong Kong. Led by two freshly minted Columbia MBAs, it recently partnered with CA Media. Thus far, Legend FC has been content to hold small shows of approximately 1,000 seats.

It has a business model of keeping costs very low and growing carefully. Legend FC also has a pretty good roster of fighters with some star names like Kevin Bellingon and Bae Myung Ho.

It also has small media distribution on KIX and a local Chinese station. That being said, Legend Fighting Championship is well-respected in Hong Kong.

The owners of Legend Fighting Championship have a strong reputation for being shrewd businessmen and for getting things done cheaply. However, it currently does not have the financial or media muscle to become the "UFC of Asia."

Nevertheless, Legend FC is making excellent strides towards becoming a Tier 1 MMA event organization in the future. Most likely, Legend FC will become the top feeder organization for the larger shows in Asia and abroad.

DARE Fighting Championship

DARE Fighting Championship is Thailand's top MMA event organization. It held its first event in Bangkok earlier this year in a nightclub and although the crowd was not huge, the fights were well received and the production was excellent.

It was not broadcast live and the business model is believed to revolve around online streaming rather than securing a TV deal.

Currently, given its business model, it is unlikely that DARE FC is going to become the "UFC of Asia." That being said, it's first show was highly successful and has received rave reviews in terms of the matchups.

DARE Fighting Championship will prove to be excellent breeding ground for rising stars and new faces to Asian MMA and is likely to become a top feeder organization to the larger shows.

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