MMA in Asia: Why the UFC NEEDS to Do an Event in South Korea

Elton HobsonCorrespondent IMarch 1, 2012

I remember many a fan laughing when UFC President Dana White claimed a few years ago that the UFC was “going global.” What a hopelessly optimistic pipe dream, fans said. White’s particular brand of fistic action will never catch on beyond (North) America’s shores!

This year, the UFC is looking to hold events in Brazil, Japan, Australia, Sweden, possibly the UK and Canada—assuming they can find a main event, that is. I say they make GSP fight with one leg. That ought to even things out a bit.

If that isn’t the definition of “going global” then what, may I ask, is? The pipe dream is a dream no longer—and the only pipe is the ones all those cynical fans were obviously smoking a couple years back (tobacco pipes, like Sherlock Holmes, because they’re such snotty know-it-alls. Why, what did you think I meant?).

After a highly entertaining and, by all accounts, quite successful UFC 144 in Japan, Dana White has already announced the UFC’s intention to return to Asia before the year’s out. Lots of options have been bandied about, with many focusing on China as the logical next destination.

I have no doubt that White seriously desires to break into the Chinese market, putting him right alongside every other executive in sports, finance or business that enjoys making money.

But I don’t think the time is right for an “Ultimate China” just yet. There’s a ton of political obstacles to overcome, first off. As that guy from Lord of the Rings might say: one does not simply walk into China.

Also, the economic reality of China would make the pricing of tickets for this event a tricky proposition.

And finally, it must be asked—just how popular is MMA in China right now? No doubt the sport has a presence and the potential right now, and there are promising promotions and prospective fighters coming out of the Orient.

But overall, I suspect the sport just isn’t “over” enough in China yet to make the cost of doing a live event financially feasible.

Bendo vs. Pettis II is the perfect main event for UFC in Korea
Bendo vs. Pettis II is the perfect main event for UFC in Korea

So where to then? In my mind, the obvious answer is for Dana White to make like Douglas MacArthur and invade Korea! (No more Korean War jokes, I swear).

First off, we know the sport of MMA has a bit of traction in South Korea. Spirit FC was a promotion that enjoyed some popularity in Korea, being broadcast on cable TV as well as being the home of future UFC fighters like Denis Kang. The promotion is now defunct, but new shows like Road FC are looking to pick up where they left off.

Not to mention the UFC’s fairly deep roster of popular, talented Korean fighters. Ben Henderson immediately comes to mind as the perfect guy to headline a show in South Korea.

Sure, he’s only part-Korean and was born and raised in America—but anyone who saw this video knows that South Korean MMA fans don’t really seem to give a crap.

Bendo is the perfect man to lead the UFC’s charge into Asia. He has the blood relation, he’s handsome and well-spoken, and he has exposure from headlining UFC 144. He’s also exciting as all heck, which helps on the marketability front.

Could you imagine a Seoul event headlined by—oh, let’s say Ben Henderson vs. Anthony Pettis II?

I think this fight is the dictionary definition of “everybody wins.” They could sell the fight in Korea on the strength of Bendo’s Korean lineage and sell the fight stateside as, “Remember that awesome fight where the Showtime Kick happened? Yeah, it’s going down again LIVE ON PPV!”.

What’s more, the UFC has some quality Korean fighters that could fill out the undercard. Dong-Hyun Kim, once billed as the hottest prospect in Korean MMA, is coming off an impressive win after conceding his first-ever loss to Carlos Condit.

If you put him in the ring with an exciting welterweight—someone like Diego Sanchez, Paulo Thiago or the winner of Alvez/Kampmann—he could draw both interest and excitement in his home and native land.

And let’s not forget about this “Korean Zombie” dude.

In terms of popularity, Chan Sung-Jung is the biggest Korean fighter in the UFC, and he has a sort of “Forrest Griffin/Stephan Bonner/Chris Leben/Leonard Garcia” relationship with fans. What I mean by that is Jung will always be a “known” commodity to fans, his fights will always be (at least slightly) a big deal and he can be counted on for excitement like Bob Sapp can be counted on to give it all he’s got from opening bell to—wait, bad analogy.

The timing might be a challenge for Chan, as he is possibly in line for a shot at Jose Aldo’s featherweight title. If it works out for him, though, I see Jung vs. any 145’er with a pulse going over like gangbusters. My personal pick would be a rematch with George Roop, but that’s me.

And that’s not even mentioning guys like Dongi Yang, another up-and-coming Korean fighter who could very easily get “the push” onto the main card of a Korean UFC.

And then there are guys like Sexyama and Denis Kang, who could easily draw with their Korean backgrounds and history with Korean MMA fans.

So I say forget about China for now and bring the Octagon to South Korea. Put on a great event there that gets local fans talking, and I guarantee the Chinese will come pouring over the Korean border in numbers not seen since—damnit, not another Korean War joke!