The UFC struggled for years to establish any type of significant foothold in China but now the top MMA promotion’s new ownership - WME-IMG - seems poised to put forth a new effort in the market. The WME-IMG group, which has successfully worked in the Chinese market for years, purchased the UFC for nearly $4 billion earlier this year and Rough.Asia reports that the company is looking to work to create new opportunities for properties like the UFC.
Such efforts will be led by the just-named CEO of WME-IMG’s China subsidiary, Michael Ma. Ma worked as an NBA executive for over a decade before moving over to the Hollywood entertainment giant.
A report from Rough.Asia details that “The move comes as talk of a UFC China event gains momentum. In Hong Kong last month, WME-IMG officials said a Shanghai event is slated for 2017.”
Up to this point, the UFC has only managed to hold events in the Special Administrative Region of Macau. In 2010, the UFC opened an office in Beijing that was shuttered by 2014.
Asia-based top MMA promotions One Championship and Road have both held events on mainland China soil this past year. Homegrown Chinese MMA lags a bit behind countries like Japan and even Singapore and Thailand but the nation has produced notable fighters and promotions.
Kunlun Fight is currently the top domestic Chinese MMA promotion and Chinese MMA athletes have broken through into the UFC, as well. Rising welterweight Li JingLiang, who fights next at UFC 206, is perhaps the highest profile one to date.
For several years prior to being purchased by WME-IMG, the UFC committed considerable resources to international expansion in multiple markets, led by then co-owner and CEO Lorenzo Fertitta. Under WME-IMG’s leadership the UFC has cut back personnel considerably, especially in its international offices.
Internal documents show a cost-cutting strategy by WME-IMG for the UFC, in hopes of increasing profitability. It will be interesting to see what moves WME-IMG continues to make on behalf of the UFC in international markets like China, especially in light of the international contraction we’ve gotten signs of, so far, for the UFC since their sale.