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UFC building $13 million Performance Institute in Shanghai

A rendering of the UFC Performance Institute in Shanghai, which is set to open in 2019.

The UFC is making a major investment in China and the future of the promotion in Asia.

A new UFC Performance Institute — the second of its kind — is currently being built in Shanghai, officials told MMA Fighting. The facility, which will be more than 93,000-square feet, will cost $13 million with an annual operating budget in the millions. An official announcement is expected to be made this week, in accordance with the UFC’s card Saturday in Beijing.

The UFC opened the original UFC PI in Las Vegas two years ago, a $14 million facility meant mostly for fighters currently on the roster to go for strength and conditioning, nutrition, physical therapy, rehabilitation and more. The Shanghai training center — three times the size of the original — will focus mostly on development. The UFC will bring in fighters on “scholarships” from around the region with an eye toward getting them ready for competition on big shows. Current UFC athletes will also be welcome.

What the Shanghai UFC PI will look like from the outside.

“I could not be more excited about the UFC Performance Institute opening in Shanghai,” UFC president Dana White said in a statement. “We know there is a ton of talent throughout Asia and now we will be able to find them and offer them all the incredible training, nutrition, and physical therapy that UFC fighters are getting in the Performance Institute at our headquarters in Las Vegas, right there in China. This is another game changer for the sport, UFC, and potential athletes throughout Asia.”

The UFC PI in Shanghai is currently under construction and is scheduled to open sometime in the second quarter of 2019. This is a project the UFC Performance Institute executives have been working on since the beginning of the year. Recruitment of staff in China is nearly complete and there will be a mix of English and native speakers.

In addition to its usage for fighters, the Shanghai PI will be the UFC’s home base in Asia, housing executives and staff. There will also be facilities and technology where the UFC can produce original programming and even house events.

“I think it’s pretty evident why the UFC sees international expansion and growth in Asia and China, specifically. And for us, for the UFC and the UFC PI, the vehicle in which we’re willing to achieve that is through developing talent,” said James Kimball, the UFC Performance Institute’s vice president of operations. “So, in terms of the model and what’s different … in Vegas, obviously we’re working with athletes that are currently on the UFC roster. That facility will be available to athletes currently on the UFC roster, but predominantly we will be developing talent. So we’ll be recruiting talent from mainland China and the surrounding regions in [Asia-Pacific] to get them UFC caliber and UFC approved.”

Forrest Griffin, the UFC Hall of Famer and UFC vice president of athlete development, said fighters from China and the rest of the region will be recruited by the Shanghai staff. Another difference between Vegas and Shanghai is that the latter will have MMA-centric coaches, rather than just strength-and-conditioning, nutrition and physical therapy personnel. But, the officials stated, that does not mean the UFC PI is trying to take fighters away from their current gyms.

“There’s actually a couple of smaller fight shows in China,” Griffin said. “There are several really good gyms. We’ll work through the gyms and perhaps with the combat-sports related Olympic movement as well. In my opinion, it’s an underrepresented athlete population. I think as the sport gains more exposure, we’l find a lot more people that want to compete in MMA from that region.”

With the addition of UFC PI Shanghai, the Performance Institute staff will grow from 15 to more than 30. The plan is to have both facilities working together to collect data and information about MMA athletes with an eye toward improving things for athletes and the sport as a whole.

“We’re somewhat jealous of the Shanghai facility for its size and capabilities,” said Duncan French, the UFC PI’s vice president of performance. “The Shanghai facility will be part of the greater Performance Institute ecosystem and give us the ability to aggregate more data and gain more information.”

China is a growing market in multiple aspects of business. Griffin said 36 million people in the region identify as UFC fans, according to internal data. It’s obvious why Shanghai, China’s most international city, was the destination for the second UFC PI.

However, the promotion is not done. Kimball said the goal has always been to expand the number of UFC Performance Institutes in the world. It’s not clear how many there will be yet or what country is next, but there are hopes to grow further.

“Absolutely, there are ambitions and plans for it,” Kimball said. “Where and when, I don’t know if we’re there yet. But it’s something that we’re constantly evaluating and we see as a part of our future.”

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