Mixed martial arts (MMA) has become one of the most popular combat sports in the world. Much of that has to do with the power of the UFC to brand itself across the globe, and the sheer impact the sport has had in the US and the power of US media to resonate across the world.

Mixed martial arts (MMA) in Asia

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Asia has been a very interesting market for mixed martial arts, not least due to Japan being the origin of the big mixed martial arts show. Japan was and in some ways still is a core market for MMA and a hotbed of gyms and, in the early days of mixed martial arts, Pride, Dream, and Shooto were the dominant promotions. Their shows, and the fighters who starred in them, are still some of the most legendary shows the sport has ever seen.

During the rise of the UFC, however, promotions in Japan waned slightly, as the Las Vegas-based promotion began siphoning off some of the best foreign fighters from the Japan circuit. For a few years, it looked as if MMA in Asia was dormant and just waiting for the UFC to step in and take over.

Things are different today. MMA in Asia is on the rise.

Rise of Mixed martial arts (MMA) in Asia

mixed martial arts mma

The largest factor in the rise of MMA in Asia has been the success of One Championship, a Singapore-based promotion that began as a showcase for fighters out of the renowned Evolve chain of gyms, and has since become a transnational showcase of martial arts talent.

One Championship has held shows in Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan, Dubai, Cambodia, China, and Myanmar. Company President Chatri Sityodtong and CEO Victor Cui company have demonstrated. that an Asian promotion can compete with the UFC, and even win, in terms of gaining television rights, market share, big name fighters, and fan base.

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As One Championship started to succeed, other promotions around Asia took the plunge into the market to create—and in some cases revive—their own MMA scenes. Some organizations established roles as feeder promotions into One Championship, while others took hold of their own local markets and now seek to interact with One Championship on their own terms.

In Korea, Road FC put on several successful shows, and ventured into mainland China with powerful Chinese backing. In Japan, companies such as Deep started to fill the big shoes of Pride and Dream, while Shooto kept trucking along.

Influx of other Martial Arts

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The rise of these promotions has also given space to disciplines generally not seen in the US or Europe, and helped to preserve and revitalize local martial traditions. The influx of BJJ, Sambo, Freestyle Wrestling, and European Kickboxing has also had a great impact on gyms in Asia, what they teach, who teaches there, and what is available not only to fighters, but to the general public.

Fighting organizations across Asia began seeing the opportunity MMA brought, and fighters normally confined to the Kickboxing, Sanda, Muay Thai, or boxing circuits now had reason to study different disciplines (most notably Brazilian Jiujitsu or “BJJ”) and try their hand at mixed martial arts.

Mainland China has been perhaps the slowest to adapt MMA to their sprawling combat sports and martial arts infrastructure, but now that MMA promotions have the license to put on shows, the market there is exploding. China has a vast network of sports universities and martial arts academies that, for the most part, remain insulated from the rest of the world. The Sanda circuit is a most salient example.

Big Things in the Future

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But now MMA, or versions thereof, are on Chinese television. Hundreds of tiny provincial players are throwing shows across the country. Kunlun has emerged from the pack as the top combat sports promoter, having put on successful shows across China and in a few other countries as well. Kunlun has a strong connection to the MMA community and the combat sports establishment, giving them access to a seemingly endless supply of fighting talent.

How that market expands in the coming years will be interesting to watch, as One Championship, Kunlun, Road FC, and the UFC vie for a piece of the Chinese pie. The same can be said for emerging MMA markets in the Philippines, Southeast Asia, and across Central Asia as well.

For a few years, when Japanese MMA faltered, the UFC hesitated to jump in, and no one had yet filled the vacuum, it looked as if Asia might miss the MMA boat. But today the sport is very healthy and growing all across the Pacific Rim. Expect big things in the future.

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