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Popularity of Ultimate Fighting on the rise among Koreans

Popularity of Ultimate Fighting on the rise among Koreans

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Published : 2013-12-29 19:10
Updated : 2013-12-29 19:14

UFC fighters Kang Kyung-ho (from left), Lim Hyun-gyu and Park Tae-hyun pose at a press conference for the upcoming 2014 UFC fights in Singapore at the CJ E&M Center in Seoul on Friday. (CJ E&M)

As Ultimate Fighting enthusiasts wait in tense anticipation for the upcoming UFC fight night next month in Singapore, local fighters Lim Hyun-gyu, Kang Kyung-ho and Park Tae-hyun are looking to represent the next generation of Korean fighters in hopes of taking home a title in an all-out battle of world class athletes.

This will be only the fourth UFC event held in Asia with Lim taking on Tarec Saffiedine of Belgium in the welterweight division, Kang going against Shunichi Shimizu of Japan in the bantamweight division, and Park battling it out against Mairbek Taisumov of Austria in the lightweight division.

“I know there are a lot of fans who are looking at the Japanese fighter to take home the win,” said Kang. “The New Year is coming, the weather is getting colder, the economy is struggling and there are not a lot of reasons to laugh anymore; I hope the three of us can come back home with a win and give Korean a wonderful gift.”

“The upcoming UFC match is going to be a really big opportunity for all of us,” said Lim at a press conference held at the CJ E&M Center in Seoul on Friday. “Losing is not an option.”

Although the Pride and K-1 fighting leagues have had high popularity in Korea over the past decade, UFC has had only a small share of the hype.

“There could be a number of reasons as to why it took a while for UFC to take off in terms of popularity in Korea … Until Kim Dong-hyun made it to the UFC, there wasn’t a single Korean-born UFC fighter,” said Mike Kim, UFC director of business and marketing in Korea.

However, despite the slow start, ultimate cage fighting is finally beginning to establish a presence in Korea with the number of local fans on the rise and continuing to climb along with the number of Korean UFC fighters.

“The popularity of UFC has really taken off since 2009 with UFC Korean fighters like Kim Dong-hyun and Jung Chan-sung notching win streaks and exciting results,” he continued.

Also giving much credit to the fact that Koreans have a deep love of sports, Kim suspects that Korea’s history of martial arts such as taekwondo and judo as well an increase in the number of international wrestling and boxing competitions has helped ultimate fighting make a name for itself.

“We have so many young elite MMA (mixed martial arts) fighters coming out of Korea, we are confident that UFC will continue to gain popularity and brand recognition,” Kim said. “While we still have some challenges in preventing our sport from being branded as too violent, if you look at the high TV ratings for those who are in the 20-49 male demographic, we are leaps and bounds ahead of other sports.”

By Julie Jackson

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