The Ultimate Fighter China And Exclusive Interview With Zhang Tiequan (update 2)
For mixed martial arts (MMA) fans in China, tonight will be huge. At 10pm Beijing time, the 12-episode program of The Ultimate Fighter China (TUF China) will premiere on Liaoning Satellite TV channel. Aside from TV coverage, the show will also be streamed online for free with a 30-minute delay on Sohu, a major Chinese news portal, and also on PPTV and iQIYI, two video platforms.
TUF China, co-produced by the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and Liaoning Radio Television, will adopt a similar format of the hit reality TV series like in the US and Brazil. In the tournament-styled program, 16 fighters with Chinese backgrounds will compete against one another in two weight classes.
The athletes will be coached by Zhang Tiequan, the first Chinese fighter signed by the UFC and, Ao Hailin, a renowned fighter with an undefeated record under the Art of War promotion. And UFC middleweight and film star Cung Le will serve as a Dana White type role like in the US version. The live finale of the series will be held at the Venetian Macao’s Cotai Arena next March, where the inaugural winners of TUF China will be determined and given a six-figure contract by the UFC.
The airing of TUF China has been slightly delayed due to difference of opinions between the UFC’s production crew and their partner at Liaoning Satellite TV before and during production, which includes an ideal location for filming and small details like whether to have an oven in the kitchen. Luckily, according to a story on China Entrepreneur Magazine, things went smoothly thanks to the help of Mark Fischer, managing director of UFC Asia, who, previously as managing director of NBA Asia, oversaw NBA’s coming into the world’s second-most-populous country by introducing its China Games in 2004.
The landing of TUF in China marks the UFC’s most significant move since the organization opened its Beijing office in 2010. It’s also groundbreaking for major international sports businesses looking to get into the China market, because never before has this been done by any others, whether in basketball, baseball or American football, you name it.
For the program, there are some interesting facts we think could potentially make it a hit for the Chinese audience:
a) Quality fighters with multicultural backgrounds: The show has recruited some really good Chinese fighters like Yang Jianping and Wang Sai, and also some up-and-coming fighters like Zhang Lipeng. The fact that there are four foreign athletes with Chinese background will make the conversations and narratives more attractive. Plus the fighters are coached by two Inner-Mongolians and supervised by a Vietnamese-American. It’s interesting enough already just by looking at the cast.
b) Star host: The series will be hosted by Huang Jianxiang, one of the best-known Chinese sports commentators and media celebrities, probably the ideal match that we can think of. Mr.Huang has also been helping with TUF China’s social media campaigns since this July. With his influence and charm, hopefully casual fans can pick up and get to enjoy the show in time.
c) The brand: Just hearing the name of the UFC tells you this is the real deal. This is the moment that every MMA fan in China has been waiting for. And they’re curious to see if the show can deliver some Chinese mixed martial artists that can really fight in the world’s best MMA promotion.
First pics of TUF China:
It’d be really interesting to see how TUF China tells the stories of Chinese fighters. These athletes are known to be men of few words. But will the show prove otherwise? With this in mind, we spoke with Zhang Tiequan, the UFC’s first Chinese fighter and co-founder of China Top Team training club in Beijing, about TUF China and his new role as a coach.
- How do you like your new role as a coach?
To be honest, I enjoy training on my own more [laughing]. The Ultimate Fighter China is definitely a new experience and challenge for me and I always enjoy new challenges.
- We saw in the cast that TUF not only got some of the most promising names in Chinese MMA, but also competitors from other countries with Chinese backgrounds?
It strikes me as really interesting too. I think the athletes from outside of China are very open in expressing themselves. While they train hard, they tended to really enjoy the experience more than the Chinese fighters in the show and liked to make more jokes. This is inspiring not only to Chinese fighters but also me and Ao Hailin as coaches.
- How important is TUF China to the development of MMA in China?
The deal with Liaoning Satellite TV is definitely big both for the UFC and training clubs around the country. Hopefully more Chinese can learn to appreciate the sport as we do and come to train with us in the future.
- Who are the main patronages of your training club? Are the urban middle class signing up for the sport?
Since the establishment of China Top Team in 2009, many white-collar professionals have been joining us at the club. Also, more and more college students came to us to learn, plus some foreigners working in Beijing.
- Is the sports system getting in the way of MMA promotions? As many fighters need to compete in China’s National Games.
Not really. It just that investors rarely look at MMA and that’s why the competitions are getting less and less. At China Top Team, we have three fighters under the banner of Legend Fighting Championship who are in a rather awkward situation. They can’t really join other promotions with contracts on their backs while Legend doesn’t really stage fights anymore.
- What in your opinion can the UFC achieve from the program?
In China, the UFC is well-known within the MMA communities but putting the show on TV and online can definitely let more people get to know its name.
- Where are you going to watch the show tonight?
Today there’s a friend’s wedding I need to attend in Shanxi. We’ll be watching the show together from there.
Photo: UFC China
#1: We posted some of the pics of TUF China’s premiere above.
#2: The full 1st episode of TUF China is now on Sohu here for viewers inside China.
Links and references:
- Bleacher Report – The Ultimate Fighter China: Can It Move the Needle in This Critical Market?
- MMA Weekly – The Ultimate Fighter China Cast Revealed
- China Radio International – The Ultimate Fighter China Arrives
- China Entrepreneur Magazine – Mark Fischer promotes the UFC like an ultimate fighter
- The Last Masters – Ultimate Fighter: China
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