Well, first thing’s first. We actually have seen several fighters with Sanshou backgrounds break into MMA. Most notably was Cung Le, who won championship gold in a major promotion called Strikeforce with his Sanshou-based striking. Zhang Tiequan, who realized moderate success in the UFC’s talent-rich featherweight division, also has a background in Sanshou.
Though there are some MMA stars with Sanshou backgrounds, however, Sanshou practitioners are undeniably rare in the sport. The reason for that is quite simple. While Brazilian Jiu Jitsu fighters, Samboists, Judokas, wrestlers and specialists from dozens of other disciplines frequently jump to MMA in hopes of striking it rich, there is no such need for Sanda fighters.
In China, Sanda is so popular that even low-level fighters are able to make decent livings. Sanda superstars such as the legendary Liu Halong, meanwhile, can achieve massive wealth and realize truly transcendent fame. From a fiscal vantage point, there is no real reason for young Chinese martial artists to set their sights on MMA rather than Sanda. Really, the only thing that will influence them to do so is personal preference, and at this juncture, most still prefer the familiar sight of the Sanda ring or lei-tai (raised platform) to the cages of mainstream mixed martial arts promotions.
Trying to sell MMA in China is, to conclude, like trying to sell Pepsi in a country that has been happily drinking Coke for decades. It’s not that China doesn’t like MMA. There are certainly hundreds of thousands of combat sports fans in the country that can’t get enough of it. The simple fact, instead, is that China already has a favorite combat sport, and that’s Sanda.