The Ultimate Fighting Championship is considering launching a Southeast Asia version of its reality television show, as well as a series pitting fighters from South Korea and Japan against each other, the managing director of UFC in Asia said.
“The Ultimate Fighter,” a long-running reality television show and mixed martial arts competition, was launched to popularize the sport in the U.S. It is now in its first season in China, where it is broadcast on Liaoning Satellite TV and attracts as many as 16 million viewers, according to UFC Asia’s Mark Fischer.
“We’re exploring now, and I think it’s going to happen, doing a Southeast Asia version of the Ultimate Fighter where the key markets…whether it’s Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, will have a chance to enter aspiring fighters,” Mr. Fischer said this week. “And we’re also looking at a Japan versus Korea version,” he added.
Previous international UFC shows include a series between fighters from the U.S. and the U.K. as well as the U.K. and Australia, named “The Smashes” in reference to the Ashes cricket series between those two nations. A new series between Australia and Canada begins on Jan. 15.
The inaugural series of “The Ultimate Fighter China” will culminate in Macau on March 1, where two finals will be held to decide who wins the lightweight and welterweight category. The winners will then be eligible for a six-figure contract with UFC, Mr. Fischer said. The event will be held at the Cotai Arena in the Venetian resort, which recently hosted a boxing match between Manny Pacquiao and Brandon Rίos.
Two established welterweight UFC fighters – Kim Dong-hyun of South Korea and Englishman John Hathaway – will also face off at the event. The two fighters were this week in Hong Kong as part of a promotional tour of the region that included stops in Singapore and Macau. The first UFC fight in Greater China took place in Macau in November 2012.
Hathaway, an accomplished rugby player in his schooldays, has a 17-1 fight record. Kim has the same. The winner of the fight will enter the top 10 of the UFC welterweight division, Mr. Fischer said. He added that the top MMA fighters can earn up to $10 million a year from fight purses and their share of pay per view revenue, rising to $15 million with sponsorship deals.
UFC says around 150 people applied initially for “The Ultimate Fighter China.” The number was whittled down to 16 for the show. The group is divided into two teams and trained by fighters, including Cung Le, a 43-year-old middleweight who was born in Vietnam and lives in the U.S.
“[The contestants] are very respectful, I like that. Maybe the show won’t have that much smack talking but I guarantee you there’s plenty of drama,” Mr. Le said. “With the proper training and coaching, there’ll be some standouts.”
Mr. Le has appeared in several films alongside the likes of Jean-Claude Van Damme, Channing Tatum and Dennis Quaid. His latest movie, “A Certain Justice,” stars Dolph Lundgren and former soccer player Vinnie Jones. It will be released this year.
Mr. Fischer said a diverse range of people applied for the Chinese television show. “We have the full gamut — guys from the countryside, the city, some with very little education, some with a great deal of education, and some overseas Chinese,” he said.
At a recent event in Singapore, a member of the audience asked Mr. Le about one of the contestants, a yoga instructor with no MMA experience. “Some yoga instructor got through, that was not UFC’s doing…Somehow that guy snuck underneath the radar,” Mr. Le said. “One of the coaches had a go and put a little hurt on him and let him feel what punches with the four ounce gloves feel like.”
Mr. Fischer added this week that the MMA is showing signs of growth in China, with classes at the Beijing Sports Institute and a center in Xian.
“We take all shapes and sizes because we have different weight classes. That’s what gives us such great potential in Asia — you don’t have to be a big hulking NBA playing size guy to be successful in our sport,” said Mr. Fischer, who was formerly managing director of the National Basketball Association in Asia.