Today, the sport of mixed martial arts (MMA) is more popular than ever. This crescendo in popularity can be primarily attributed to the work of the Ultimate Fighter Championship (UFC), which is far and away the biggest and most successful mixed martial arts promotion on earth.
While the UFC currently sits atop the MMA mountain, however, it is far from the only promotion on the block. MMA now thrives on every continent but Antarctica – and it’s probably a matter of time before a couple of bored scientists empty out a research facility, set up a cage, and start their own MMA promotions on the icy continent at the bottom of the world.
Unsurprisingly, several of the top MMA promotions in the world exist in Asia, where many of the traditional martial arts upon which MMA is based came into existence.
Without further ado, here are three excellent Asian MMA promotions that every fan of combat sports should keep an eye on:
Rizin Fighting Federation, which is based in Japan, is a relatively new MMA promotion, having burst into life in late 2015. Despite its short lifespan, however, the promotion has already established itself as one of the best sources for MMA on earth.
Much of Rizin’s success, of course, can be attributed to the fact that it is basically a revival of the long extinct Japanese MMA league PRIDE. The promotion is operated by former PRIDE President Nobuyuki Sakakibara, and has also invited veteran PRIDE fighters like Fedor Emelianenko, Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic, Kazushi Sakuraba, Wanderlei Silva, Heath Herring, Kazuyuki Fujita, Tatsuya Kawajiri, Jérôme Le Banner, Tsuyoshi Kohsaka and Charles Bennett into its ring.
While much of Rizin’s success has been due to the way it hocks PRIDE nostalgia, however, the promotion has also been very good at developing new stars, signing up-and-coming fighters like Kron Gracie, Erson Yamamoto, Gabi Garcia, Baruto Kaito, and Jiri Prochazka. Rizin has also picked up a number of relevant fighters in former UFC flyweight title challenger Kyoji Horiguchi, long-time lightweight star Shinya Aoki, established light heavyweight contender Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal, and former UFC lightweight Daron Cruickshank.
Having recently promoted their seventh event, and boasting an exciting roster of stars young and old, Japan’s Rizin Fighting Federation is definitely a promotion that all fight fans should follow!
Unlike Japan’s Rizin Fighting Federation, South Korea’s Road Fighting Championship has been around for quite awhile. The promotion was founded in the year 2010, and since its inception, it has promoted more than 40 events composed of more than 450 fights. It has also ventured outside its native South Korea, having promoted shows in both China and Japan.
Over the last few years, Road FC has been promoting some wildly entertaining openweight bouts – that is, contest where there is no weight limit. At the time of this writing, the promotion’s openweight champion is always entertaining American-Samoan kickboxing transplant Siala-Mou “Mighty Mo” Siliga.
While Road FC’s openweight showdowns have probably been generating the majority of its headlines outside of South Korea, the promotion is also promoting a talent-packed lightweight Grand Prix. This exciting tournament has featured names like American UFC veteran Leo Kuntz, Brazilian UFC veteran Ronys Torres, South Korean UFC veteran Yui Chul Nam, and other representatives from China, Mongolia, Russia, Japan, and further afield. Most excitingly of all, the winner of this tournament will pocket a whopping $1 million USD.
If this action-packed tournament is a sign of thing to come, we can expect lots more excitement from South Korea’s top MMA promotion in the future.
Singapore’s One Championship, which claims to have a 90-percent market share when it comes to MMA in Asia, is far and away the biggest MMA promotion in Asia. Amazingly, it has established itself as such in less than a decade of existence, having launched in the summer of 2011.Helmed by a team of martial arts industry mainstays like Victor Cui, Chatri Sityodong, Rich Franklin and Matt Hume, One Championship has already promoted riveting shows in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, The Philippines, Taiwan, China, Myanmar, and even the United Arab Emirates. The promotion has also signed world renowned MMA stars like Ben Askren, Brandon Vera, Bibiano Fernandes, Angela Lee, Aung La N Sang, Shinya Aoki, Eduard Folayang, and Jadambaa Narantungalag.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about One Championship, however, is the way that it focuses on promoting Asian fighters, and promoting a product that Asian MMA fans specifically will enjoy.
Perhaps One Championship CEO/ Owner Victor Cui said it best in an early 2017 interview with BJPenn.com.
“One of the things that we’ve really focused on at One is building Asian heroes,” Cui explained to BJPenn.com. “Why I say that is that, in the world of sports in Asia, there’s just really not a lot of sports that Asians can become world champions at. Not to put myself down, but most of the sports [in Asia], we imported from the West. Football, tennis, F-1, basketball… those are not Asian sports, and we follow those [Western] heroes. Rightly so, because they’re the best heroes in the world from the West, but Asians have only been adapting in those sports over the last few decades. But martial arts, that’s in our blood. We’ve been doing it for the last 5000 years. So we have heroes here that are outright some of the most legitimate world champions, some of the most legitimate athletes and martial artists in the world.”
Having established itself as Asia’s top MMA promotions, expect lots more excitement from One Championship in the future!