Fighters and fans in Asia yesterday relished the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s (UFC) first visit to China, with a 12-fight card showcasing a lot of local talent in Shanghai.
The UFC continued its global expansion with a card featuring an unprecedented eight Chinese fighters, as well as the debut of Indian featherweight Bharat Kandare. For Chinese fans, it is a chance to show the world what they have to offer.
“I want to see whether China can replicate the atmosphere we see over in the US,” 38-year-old business manager and mixed martial arts fan Kim Li said. “It’s really full-on over in the US and I want to see if they can replicate that in China too.”
Kim is one of thousands of fans with a ticket for the event, which took place at the Mercedes-Benz Arena.
“For around 10 years, I’ve been watching it [the UFC] on TV and I’ve never had a chance to go to the US where most of the fights take place,” he said. “It’s really exciting for them to come over to give us a chance to take a look for the first time.”
Based in Las Vegas, Nevada, the UFC has transformed itself from an outlier running a brutal, bloody sport to a global brand on the back of star fighters such as Irish lightweight champ Conor McGregor and former women’s bantamweight title-holder Ronda Rousey.
The promotion this year has held a number of events outside its traditional strongholds of North America and Brazil, visiting cities from Stockholm to Saitama in Japan and giving local prospects prominence on the card where possible.
The 16-hour time difference between Shanghai and Las Vegas means that the card started at 4am in Nevada, a concession to the Asian TV audience that the UFC is looking to attract.
The main event saw British former middleweight champion Michael Bisping step back into the octagon just three weeks after losing his belt to Canada’s Georges St-Pierre.
Bisping, whose brawling style has made him a global favorite, was to face American Kevin Gastelum in a five-round, non-title fight.
Asked what he found most appealing about the sport, Kim echoed the answer of fight fans all over the world.
“It’s gladiatorial, [like] back in the Roman days when they had big fights in coliseums. You get that atmosphere in the US; it’s very primal,” he said.
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