Ultimate Fighter: China

TUF China

I am getting a late start on the Ultimate Fighter China. I just watched episodes 1-2 and will watch 3 & 4 after I write this post. The best information source I found so far, is the TUF: China Wikipedia page, which has a bit of background and a good summary of each episode. If you haven’t seen any of the episodes, stay away from the Wiki page though, spoilers.

The UFC.com page for TUF: China is a bit sparse, but there is a good initial story on the cast, the carrier – Liaoning Satellite TV – and some info regarding scheduling, peppered with quotes.

The Headliners

The cast includes coaches Zhang Tiequan, leading the Tekken Zhang Dragon Team and the Flying Lions team, led by Ao Hailin. Neither of these two will ever fight again. Tiequan made it to the UFC and got beat up, Ao Hailin ran the China MMA and Sanda circuit as one of the “original four” Chinese MMA guys, and recently retired as a fighter. Both guys are really solid, and Tiequan is a really nice guy – incredibly short too – and everyone loves him here, despite his 八点UFC record. Ao Hailin is the only other recognizable name in the China MMA game – almost every fighter in China today either trained under him, watched him fight, or trained under one of his students.

Tiequan and Hailin are two of the original four of Chinese MMA, they trained together in Beijing, fought many of the same guys, taught and trained with the same guys, and are basically the role models for a whole new generation of Chinese fighters coming up, Several of which are their students on this show.

So even if these two guys are “washed up“  in terms of their UFC potential, they are the *only* available Chinese coaches with any sort of fan base.

And then Kang Li (Cung Le), shows up, the only “Chinese” fighter to be successful in the UFC. Although he is actually Vietnamese-American, his name implies Chinese heritage, and he trains primarily in Sanshou, related to Sanda, which every Chinese fighter knows. The interplay between Cung Le, Tiequan and Hailin should be interesting as the season progresses. All three are accomplished Sanda and MMA guys, but only Cung Le has had any real success internationally. Add to the fact that he is American, and you have a mixture of pride, admiration, and competition that could produce something great, or go down in flames. I predict good things though, because my limited experience with fighters tells me that respect is always first and foremost.

The credibility draw comes from Cung Le, who is incredibly American compared to his Asian compatriots. Cung Le is a Sanda/Sanshou fighter and he has had some success – most recently with a great knockout of legend Rich Franklin. He also had a great fight with the beast known as Wanderlei Silva, which he lost due to stoppage. Cung is a bona fide MMA fighter. He was flown out of Saigon under gunfire at the age of 3 … days … so that is pretty cool too.

The “Lack of Talent” Issue

In the first two episodes I noticed that he was a bit disappointed in the level of talent, an issue that is discussed in this article about the cute yoga instructor who left in Episode 2. That was inevitable. And the fact that China has hundreds of guys on the Sanda and MMA circuit who would beat the stuffing out of the yoga instructor is lost on a lot of commentators.

This isn’t about bringing the baddest dudes in China together for a showdown. This is about bringing the fastest growing sport – with deep roots in Chinese martial arts – to the Chinese audience.

Chinese today take a few things for granted, one of them being the “natural physical inferiority” of the Asian male. It goes even deeper than that … women in China are also convinced that they are physically incapable of giving birth naturally or breastfeeding their children; men feel that they could never physically satisfy a Western woman …

The root cause of this deep inferiority complex is basically ignorance, but how that ignorance came about is a topic for another post. The point I am trying to make is, Chinese fighters may already know that they can take on anyone in the ring – provided they have the proper training – but the Chinese audience doesn’t really know that. And so instead of making TUF: China about the toughest guys around and how they may or may not be able to stack up against the international community, I believe this season is about introducing characters to the Chinese audience.

It’s about introducing the sport – hence the host, the famous CCTV journalist Huang Jian Xiang, who spends a lot of time explaining the basics of MMA/ Such as how MMA gives fighters a platform – fighters from every discipline – and that the platform demands that every fighter is aware of most if not all of the disciplines. This isn’t a fake kungfu match, an incomprehensible BJJ bout, or a boring boxing match. This is the pinnacle of combat in today’s world, and China is about to step into the light. 

Something like that. So if they have some weaker guys, or a bunch of unknowns, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is TV ratings, Wechat accounts and Weibo re-tweets. The UFC wants to expand in Asia and China is the biggest market out here. So whatever it takes .. cute Yoga guys, long haired Malaysians, a couple badasses …

TV Report

Speaking of ratings and Weibo, here is Mark Harris with some good info (the entire post is very long, but very thorough, check it out.)

— Fight Sport Asia indicates that the first episode of TUF China pulled in the region of five million viewers. It has since gained “several million more” viewers through video-on-demand. From a business perspective, whether or not that’s a good number depends on how the UFC intends to create revenue from Chinese consumers. Spending power in China can’t compare to the USA, so it’s dubious whether there is currently a lot of consumer capital at stake for the UFC. On the other hand, five million sounds like a strong number for generating ad revenue. As the Chinese economy grows, UFC will be in a good situation if it has five million or more regular Chinese fight fans.

Liaoning Satellite TV doesn’t register on lists of the most-watched Chinese TV stations, so it’s not possible for me to compare TUF’s viewership to how many viewers the network averages. The optimistic view would be that five million people is in itself a strong number, if it is or if it isn’t competing with other primetime programming, since you’re reaching a huge number of potential buyers. On the flip side, what if LSTV has another primetime TV series on the back-burner that has a record of pulling higher ratings than TUF China? If anyone with better Chinese skills than me can research this, I will appreciate it if you get in touch.

— Mark Fischer told the Global Times earlier this year that the UFC’s decision to broadcast on LSTV was based on their prior relationship. In the past, LSTV has received the highest ratings of all broadcasters of UFC programming in China.

— Weibo is surely a poor indicator of the show’s popularity, but it’s possible to observe the following increases between the airing of episode one and two of TUF China:

Wang Sai’s followers increased from 116,837 to 116,914.
Yang Jianping’s followers increased from approximately 440,000 to 445,994.
Zhang Li Peng’s followers increased from 52,553 to 52,635.

It’ll be interesting to see how these figures change as characters develop this season. The official TUF China Weibo page had 1,356 followers prior to episode 2.”

The One Guy I Know

Wang Sai!!

Wang Sai seems like a really cool guy. He is 27, from Shandong, he trains with some Dagestani thugs in Chengdu, and he has the look of a champion. He reminds me a bit of Wang Guan from RUFF. He is one of the welterweights on the show and he has the respect of everyone – fighters and coaches. Several of the fighters call him “赛哥” or Elder Brother Sai. I am not sure if he could make it in the UFC or not … I think it will take another generation of fighters before Chinese fighters can compete there (i.e 2-3 years maybe). I chatted with him briefly on Wechat the other day, and he sounded a little down, a little bored. Perhaps a bit unsure about MMA in China. He told me he wants to go abroad and train – anywhere abroad – and when a Chinese says something like that, it’s usually because they have come up against the massive wall of bullshit that keeps a lot of excellence from rising to the top here.

We’ll see. He was the headliner in the Emei MMA fight i went to see a couple months ago, and he was pitted up against a weed smoking French African who was game, but who had just started MMA a few months ago. Wang Sai manhandled him and tapped him out with a rear naked choke. I didn’t really like to see that, because Wang Sai seemed like a tiger, and they put him in the ring with a *game* hound. And I think it bothered Wang Sai too.

The First Fight

Short and Sweet. That’s how I would describe the first fight. It was an action packed minute of rolling and diving, and it ended with Zhang Li Peng on Zhu Qing Xiang’s back, pounding him out. Somewhere in there was a tapout. So weak in terms of UFC, but Cung Le thought it was a decent start to the season. I thought so too, if only because it showed that these guys are game, if unskilled.

Notes I took:

First thing I notice is a lack of the team competitiveness that you see in the US based Ultimate Fighter shows. For these guys, it’s just awesome to be here. Although they’ll fight each other and perhaps even grow to dislike each other, in these few opening minutes, they’re just an excited group of boys, getting ready for some fun. (This changed immediately after the first fight was announced, but it was my first impression).

Notes on a few of the fighters:

Zhang Jiming, Borneo Malaysia (long hair, good looking) 31 years old, taekwondo as a kid with his father, speaks better English than Chinese, but speaks both fluently.

Role of family – first scene is Wang Sai and his family, second is another fighter calling his family, Zhang Jiming also mentions the heart warming feeling of having his (male) family members support. Later on Zhang Li Peng says is second dream, after making it to the UFC< is buying his parents a an apartment. Very Chinese.

Ning Guangyou, Cangzhou Hebei, 32 year old, northern eyes, short hair, big ass ears, soft spoken, studied martial arts, but moved to Sanda – again family doesnt like it cuz he is too old perhaps …

Zhang Li Peng, 23 years old, Inner Mongolia

Cung Le on UFC and TUF in China:

“Groundbreaking, history in the making …”
“You will be representing China. All of Asia, and all the Asian people around the world in this show …”
“This is a dream come true, to be able to help Chinese martial arts, and take the Asian fighter to the next level …”
“These guys are pretty behind in the game.”

Yang Jian Ping, 24, Hunan, acting career, mentioned Cung Le’s acting … “they might be better fighters, but they are definitely not as famous as I am” mentions that his parents want him to take over the family business, (another look into family, and the fact that fan base plays a role).

Wu Qi Ze, 25, Henan, ugly guy, into Thai boxing

Albert, Chen Zheng Kang, 28, Chinese-Canadian,

Li Jin Ying, Liaoning, Yoga teacher, timid as a kid, “金刚芭比” Macho Queen – literal translation is Gold Steel Barbie.

Dong Xin, MMA since 2008, Xian, boyish, 22 years old

Shi Liang, 35 years old, American- Chinese, Cornell PhD, lawyer on Wall Street, now into movie investment and film production,

Ao calls a couple of them “小孩” which means “child”

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Published on: January 3, 2014

Filled Under: Modern Kung Fu

Views: 19235

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4 Responses to Ultimate Fighter: China

  1. Ben Judkins says:

    Hi Sascha,

    Thanks for the update! I look forward to seeing how this show progresses and whether it succeeds in accomplishing its essential goals.

    I found this line of your last post interesting:

    “Chinese today take a few things for granted, one of them being the “natural physical inferiority” of the Asian male. It goes even deeper than that … women in China are also convinced that they are physically incapable of giving birth naturally or breastfeeding their children; men feel that they could never physically satisfy a Western woman …

    The root cause of this deep inferiority complex is basically ignorance, but how that ignorance came about is a topic for another post.”

    I have been reading about the martial arts reform movements in the 1920s-1930s to get ready for a new round of posts over at my blog. Obviously this was a set of beliefs that were very important to public discussions during that era. I would love to hear more about your understanding of how they got such a strong grip on the popular imagination and their continuing impact today.

    Keep up the good work!

  2. MnRick says:

    Hi Sascha,
    Very nice article with lots of keen observation and cultural insight. Would love to see some video on these fights. I wonder if there are any cable feeds or YouTube vids that I can tap into from back in the US (?), have to investigate that.
    Always look forward to your articles…
    Take care and stay well.
    Rick in Mn.

  3. Sascha says:

    Hey fellows:

    The inferiority complex is pretty deep, and depending on who you talk to, may go back as far as the the bricks of the Great Wall. But I am talking mostly about my first hand interactions with the idea that, physically, Asians are at a disadvantage.

    It was pretty common to hear a man say, “We Chinese are physically inferior to Westerners” – just like that. They would say, in Chinese: “我们中国人的体质和你们西方人不一样,我们比你们弱一点” and that basically means ”We Chinese are weaker than you Westerners” – I think it came about mostly due to China’s traditional methods of dealing with outsiders.

    For the longest time, foreigners were barbarians, uncultured and violent, whereas Chinese were orderly, highly sophisticated, cerebral, peaceful … so Chinese would often politely give a nod to the physicality of the barbarian, while internally remaining arrogantly certain of superiority. As long as the empire stood and Chinese ruled, this worked wonderfully.

    I notice a lot of times, when Chinese mention the physical issue, they also allude subtly to this idea above: that sure, Westerners are bigger, but they are also much dumber. Most kungfu movies involving a Western boxer and a Chinese martial artist confirm this idea of the sophisticated cultured man deigning, finally, to stoop to the violent ravings of the uncultured barbarian.

    This may also play a role in the whole discussion of CMA and MMA, now that I am writing this …

    As for video, I am uploading the episodes now 🙂

  4. Sascha says:

    Actually I cannot upload those vids … I’ll send torrents via email.

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