MACAU (AFP) ― It has taken time and a few false starts but Asia, the spiritual and physical home of martial arts, now seems ready to take on the best in the world of modern mixed combat.
Bae Myung-ho posing with the championship belt
When Bae Myung-ho raised the Legend Fighting Championship welterweight title belt last Saturday night he showed it briefly to his fans and then the South Korean mixed martial artist went straight for the television cameras.
Bae fought in front of around 1,500 people inside Macau’s City of Dreams casino complex ― but an estimated 150 million households across the globe watched on TV.
Mixed martial arts incorporates the skills of everything from Brazilian jiu-jitsu, through judo, wrestling, karate and Muay Thai kick-boxing.
From the sold-out ringside in Macau it was easy to see why MMA has become so popular.
Fight fans were treated to everything from a knockout to a submission and, finally, Bae’s high-octane display in wrestling the welterweight crown from New Zealander Rod MacSwain through a unanimous points decision over three rounds.
The fighters enter the ring through smoke, lights and pounding beats. There are rules, of course, including no eye-gouging or blows below the belt, but pretty much everything else goes.
South Korea’s Bae Myung-ho (right) and Rod MacSwain of New Zealand vie for the Legend Fighting Championship welterweight title belt at Macau’s City of Dreams casino complex.
For Bae that meant making use of his superior strength over MacSwain and dumping him to the canvass for long periods in both the second and third of their five-minute rounds.
Once pinned, MacSwain could do little more than try to cover up as his opponent pounded knee after knee into his head and upper torso.
“We are experiencing a ton of momentum now,” said Legend co-founder Chris Pollack. “You have to have world-class fighters and we have that. We now think we are producing something that is as good as anything you will see.”
In the United States, mixed martial arts ― primarily through the Ultimate Fighting Championship ― has long been the most-watched sport on pay-per-view television, a feat it first achieved in 2006 when its bouts generated more than $200 million in revenue over the year.
The sport also has a long and successful history in Japan but the rest of Asia has struggled to consistently organize and market its major events internationally.
A spate of failed ventures and cancellations culminated in the debacles of the “Fury 2” and “Mayhem in Macau” cards, planned for October 2010 and January this year respectively.
Both events were axed at the last minute after poor ticket sales, rumors of internal wrangling and negative press.
But organizers of Saturday’s event signed previously unmatched broadcasting deals throughout North America and beamed the event live from Macau into the rest of China, a market even the wildly successful Ultimate Fighting Championship has struggled to pin down.
“It’s a sport where athletes can draw on the best from so many sports from this region and they now have a chance to show them to the world,” said Pollack.
The fact that Asia finds itself at the forefront of the sport has, for some, been a long time coming.
“It seems to be turning full circle as it can all be traced back to one man ― Bruce Lee,” said Hong Kong-based film director/producer Bey Logan, who specializes in martial arts films and wrote the script for action icon Jackie Chan’s “The Medallion.”
“The first filmed MMA match was the opening scene of ‘Enter the Dragon’ ― 38 years ago. Bruce Lee has the trunks and the gloves, he is fighting on a mat and takes the guy down and makes him tap out. It all goes back to that.”
He pointed to the upcoming release of Oscar-winning director Steven Soderbergh’s production “Haywire” ― which stars American mixed martial arts star Gina Carano ― as further proof that the sport has gained wide acceptance.
Pollack and his Legend Fighting Championship have three more events set for Macau in the next 12 months, as well as others in Hong Kong ― all to be beamed across the globe.
“A lot of our guys are still coming from single sports ― they are learning all about what you can use in mixed martial arts,” said Pollack. “They are learning about the sport and now the world is learning about them.”