Saturday’s UFC event in Singapore is set to kick off an aggressive push by the organization to establish itself in Asia.
The UFC plans to hold seven events in the region in 2014, effectively doubling the total number of shows the promotion has put on in Asia in its entire 20 year history.
The first of these will be UFC Fight Night 34, headlined by welterweights Tarec Saffiedine and Hyun Gyu Lim. The Saturday event will be streamed live in the US on UFC Fight Pass.
“We’ve got Saturday’s event in Singapore, and we’re looking at a couple of events this year in Macau,” Fischer told USA TODAY Sports. “We’re looking, as well, at a new multi-year agreement to come to Japan at least once a year. We’re in discussions with partners in Seoul, Manila, Bangkok and Jakarta. I don’t expect all of these to happen in 2014, but we’ll be coming to all of these places soon enough. Mainland China is also on the horizon.
“We’re turning from sort of a one-off event to really a self-sustaining business model. We’re building up the team to make that happen.”
“We see this as the beachhead for continued entry and exploration, if you will, of all of the Southeast Asian markets such as Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and more,” he added. “There are huge populations in these countries, and they all have deep martial arts roots and traditions. They’re all catching on to the move toward MMA.”
Historically, the UFC has not been very active on the continent. The promotion held four events in Japan between 1997 and 2000, and returned for a single show in 2012. Last year, the UFC held one in Japan and one in Macau.
Despite this track record, Fischer believes that the long development process is finally paying off.
“Like anything, it takes time,” Fischer said. “A long journey starts with a single step. But by having more fights in this region, we open up many more spots and convenient opportunities for fighters from Asia and create local relevance by having these fights in Asia.
“I think educating and exposing people to the sport in the right way is the most important goal right now. It’s going to take time to develop, but it really is happening.”
“It’s symbolic that this is the first event of the year for the UFC. It’s also the first event on the new UFCFightPass digital offering, and it’s the first one of, we think, many events in Asia. It’s not going to be a one-off. We’re going to have five, six, maybe even seven events in 2014, and we’re going to be doing at least that many in the years to come.
“Our intent is to really build up the local relevance, to really educate the fans here and turn them from aware to interested and from interested to passionate, as we have elsewhere around the world,” he concluded. “Once people have a chance to see this sport and all the excitement and drama behind it, not to mention the virtuous characteristics of the athletes, the sky is the limit.”