ONE FC also signed last year a decade-long agreement with pan-Asian television network Star Sports to broadcast the fights across the region.
Cui said he believed MMA could be even more popular in Asia than the US, citing the deep histories of various martial arts in the region.
“Asians breathe and live martial arts. Arnis, silat, taekwondo, kung fu, Muay Thai, karate — these are all from Asia,” he said. “When you think of martial arts, you also think of Asian heroes — Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee, Jet Li.”
US former UFC heavyweight champion Tim Sylvia is now a part of the ONE FC stable and agreed that Asian fans had a much greater appreciation of the complexities of MMA than those in the US.
“The fans here are so much better than in the US. They know more about the sport,” Sylvia said in Manila before a surprise loss to a US wrestler. “They respect the fact that this is what we do for a living, and there are no drunks cursing in the rafters.”
Brazilian Bibiano Fernandes, a six-time jiujitsu world champion who as a child scavenged for food in the Amazon before fight coaches discovered his talent, is another big name enjoying life in Asia.
“I think I am just blessed to be here fighting,” Fernandes said as fans mobbed him after beating a Japanese rival.
For Folayang, his night in front of a home crowd ended with a bruised body and a hurt ego after a more experienced Iranian wrestler took him down for most of the bout, but he remained upbeat.
“It was a wake-up call for me, but that’s how MMA is,” he said. “You win big sometimes, but get broken sometimes.”