On September 2nd, UFC®, the world’s premier mixed martial arts organization, and the Chinese Olympic Committee (COC), announced a multi-year agreement that calls for UFC to play a key role in helping Chinese athletes train for the 2021 Tokyo Summer Olympic Games and 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games.
Under the agreement, UFC will serve as the Official High Performance Advisor to the Chinese Olympic Committee, while the UFC Performance Institute in Shanghai will serve as the committee’s Official High Performance Training Center.
UFC Performance Institute in Shanghai, source from UFC China
As a carrier of Chinese national spirit, Chinese kungfu has always conveyed the heroic emotions of Chinese descendants at home and abroad. In the meantime, the frequent communication and fusion of diverse fighting styles worldwide has given birth to mixed martial arts (MMA), which is now becoming popular in the Chinese market, along with the fast growing fitness industry. Thus, UFC, the world’s top MMA organization, has been intensifying its event promotion in mainland China. Since its landing in 2017, UFC has managed to organize several events in Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, with sold out attendance. In particular, when Xiaonan Yan, the Chinese UFC star, showed up in UFC Beijing Event in 2018, the atmosphere within Cadillac Arena was fully ignited. In particular, when Zhang Weili won the UFC world strawweight championship in 2019, the audience in the Shenzhen Universiade Sports Centre Arena was exhilarated. The unique event IP, with premium quality and infinite potential, has further activated the business value excavation in Chinese Market. Well-known companies worldwide, including General Tire, Reebok, Airasia Airline, and Monster Energy, have reached strategic partnerships with UFC. In addition, PPTV, the nation’s leading online sports platform, has acquired exclusive streaming rights for the Chinese market, starting from March 2016 through February 2021.
All eyes are on the future. As the UFC Shanghai Performance Institute cooperates with the COC to improve competition preparation of Team China, and Chinese MMA fighters go big , UFC will continue to brave the winds and waves and reshape the MMA ecosystem in China.
Recently, Yutang Sports has conducted an exclusive interview with Kevin Chang, Senior Vice President, APAC at UFC. Under Kevin’s leadership, UFC has aggressively expanded across Asia and delivered live events in cosmopolitan cities, including Macau, Tokyo, Seoul, Manila, Singapore, Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzheng and Busan. In addition, Kevin has also led international development and content deals that include partnerships with PPTV, BesTV, Abema TV, FOX Sports Japan, Eclat, and others. During the interview, Kevin shared his understandings with respect to certain adjustments of UFC under Covid-19 Pandemic, the grand vision of UFC’s cooperation with the COC, as well as the eternal faith and ambitions of UFC to further explore the MMA market in China.
Yutang Sports: In recent years, domestic competitions featuring Chinese kungfu and international MMA competitions have taken place in the Chinese market, but almost none of them were able to make a great difference. As the top MMA competition worldwide, compared with other MMA competitions, what do you think is special about UFC? What are those characteristics that help to make a difference and take root in the Chinese market?
Chang: As you’ve rightly mentioned, the UFC is the top MMA promotion in the world, and that is precisely what makes it special when compared to smaller domestic and regional promotions that feed up to the UFC. When a fan watches a star emerge from their country (for instance, Zhang Weili in China) they know that this athlete has risen up competing against the world’s very best. The UFC is globally recognized as the undisputed champion of combat sports which is what makes it relevant to every sports fan, similar to other international sports properties like NBA, FIFA or the Olympics.
Winning moment of Weili Zhang, source from UFC China
Yutang Sports: In 2019, UFC set up the world’s largest UFC Performance Institute in Shanghai and meanwhile the Asia headquarters moved to the city as well. How do you see the role of the Chinese market in the UFC landscape, and what drives UFC to focus on investment in China?
Chang: Our investment in the Performance Institute in Shanghai is the most significant investment among international sports properties operating in China. When we decided to build the PI in Shanghai, and make it three times the size of the original in Las Vegas, one of our key objectives was to help raise the bar on sports in Asia, not only to develop MMA talent (though that is certainly the focus of the world’s largest MMA training facility), but also to improve performance across every sports discipline using our innovative science-based approach and world class team of coaches and trainers. Our UFC Academy program, a full ride, all-inclusive scholarship is a tremendous opportunity for the top MMA talent to develop into future UFC stars and we believe that a strong talent pool will fuel our growth.
Yutang Sports: During the epidemic, the world’s top sports competitions were suspended. On May 8th, UFC returned to holding competitions, becoming the first professional league to come back in North America. What adjustments have been taken by UFC in the face of the epidemic? When the epidemic is over in the future, what will be the opportunities and challenges for UFC in the global market?
Chang: We are really proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish over the past few months with 22 successful events in Jacksonville, APEX and Fight Island, and counting. We’ve set the standard for how to put on events in the COVID era, continue to learn and improve the process, and will apply best practices going forward. There are different considerations and challenges for every country we host events, but as the first major sports organization to successfully do so, we are confident in our abilities to sustain our business regardless of the circumstances. We look forward to welcoming back our fans in due course.
Yutang Sports: This month, UFC announced an agreement with the COC for the UFC Performance Institute Shanghai to become the COC’s official high performance training center. What were the considerations for UFC to cooperate with the COC and national teams before the Olympics? At the same time, what opportunities will this cooperation bring to UFC’s promotion in the Chinese market?
Chang: A primary objective for building the Performance Institute Shanghai was to raise the bar on sport in China and Asia. Our partnership with COC is part of an ongoing effort to fulfill that mission and our cooperation is a result of mutual respect and shared desire to push the boundaries of human potential across all sports disciplines.
The results speak for themselves and we’ve had a ton of positive feedback from every team and athlete we’ve worked with. We are very excited to keep the ball rolling on this and have our partnership with COC serve as a global standard for elite athlete training. There’s so much information about how to optimize training out there, and we are constantly sorting through the most trustworthy sources to pull together the most up-to-date best practices from around the world to create the UFC Performance Institute’s very own proprietary system.
UFC named official high performance ddvisor to Chinese Olympic Committee, source from UFC China
Yutang Sports: As it is known, UFC invests a lot in the Chinese market: the UFC PI Shanghai cost $ 13 million, and even one UFC China event takes millions of dollars to produce. What do you think of the commercial development of UFC in China with such a large investment?
Chang: Just like in the US, we are the fastest growing sports IP in China, validated by our commercial success and tremendous fanbase. For instance, we launched our Douyin account late last year and became the fastest growing sports property on the platform, amassing a huge following in a very short time, second only to NBA as far as Sports IP accounts go. We have the highest levels of engagement (reads, likes, posts) in sports, speaks to the passion our fans have in China, regularly take the top trending spots on Douyin and Weibo. When Weili Zhang won the strawweight championship and subsequently when she defended it in what many feel was the best fight of 2020 thus far, we trended at the top spot across Weibo and Douyin for 3 straight days. Several notable Celebrities and KOLs with huge followings have become hard core UFC fans and are actively engaging with our brand by attending events, meeting with our UFC stars, or coming to our PI in Shanghai. This type of success only happens when you have a long-term vision and strategy for China that goes beyond MMA.
Yutang Sports: 2021 will be a big year for many top international events. What will be the detailed plans for the UFC events in 2021, especially in China? What will be the arrangements for the UFC signed Chinese athletes?
Chang: We are planning for 2021 now, but what we decide to do depends on a variety of factors including when it will be safe for fans to attend at full capacity. That said, we’ve already announced so many exciting and meaningful bouts for our Chinese athletes including Alateng Heili (our first graduate of the UFC Academy) who will compete against Casey Kenny in UFC 253, and Yan Xiaonan versus Claudia Gadelha targeted for November. There are several other exciting announcements we will make in coming weeks as well.
Winning moment of Xiaonan Yan, source from UFC China
Yutang Sports: So far, UFC Chinese fighters such as Weili Zhang, Jingliang Li and Yadong Song have made some gains on the world stage. In addition, the PI Shanghai has signed around 20 Chinese athletes who are training in the PI. What do you think is the potential of Chinese MMA athletes? What advice do you have for Chinese MMA fans and the young generation of athletes in MMA training?
Chang: The future of Chinese MMA is very bright. To put it simply, being accepted into the UFC Academy is the biggest opportunity of their career in MMA. It goes without saying that they need to impress their coaches and put on spectacular performances in competition. My advice is to put everything they can into training and being prepared for the moment, listen to their coaches, and seize the opportunity because it might not come around again.
UFC® is the world’s premier mixed martial arts (MMA) organization, with more than 318 million fans and 80 million social media followers. The organization produces more than 40 live events annually in some of the most prestigious arenas around the world, while broadcasting to nearly one billion TV households across more than 170 countries. UFC’s athlete roster features the world’s best MMA athletes, representing more than 65 countries. The organization’s digital offerings include UFC FIGHT PASS®, the world’s leading streaming service for combat sports. UFC was acquired in 2016 by global entertainment, sports and content company Endeavor and strategic investors Silver Lake Partners and KKR.