As with most sports trying to make it internationally, the UFC has eyed China as an emerging market for a long time.
It was back in 2010 when they first hired Mark Fischer, whose resume included the NBA’s successful explosion in popularity in that country.
The UFC had sent officials to China, both trying to make inroads and looking for potential stars for the market. The idea was to look at people with martial arts backgrounds that could be trained to be their Yao Ming, the superstar who put the NBA on the map in that country. But while martial arts does have a long tradition in that company, the level of MMA at the time was very low. Nobody was found at that point who could stand the best of time.
By 2013, the next step was to get a season of a specialized Ultimate Fighter show for China, with the idea of creating stars. But none of the fighters off that season made a mark.
On Saturday, at the UFC show in Singapore there were three Chinese fighters who scored wins on the undercard, and all looked like they more than belonged in the promotion, although it is too early to now how far they can go.
Li Jingliang (15-5), “The Leach,” has been with the promotion for more than four years, and has won seven of his 10 fights. But at 30, he seems destined for being just another guy in a deep welterweight division.
Yan Xiaonan (9-1, 1 no contest), a woman strawweight, won one of the night’s best fights with a unanimous decision over Viviane Pereira (13-2), a Brazilian who came to UFC as an undefeated powerhouse on the Brazilian circuit. Xiaonan used distance and footwork well, and showed legitimate striking skill in being able to transfer her karate-based skill into her second straight UFC win.
The most interesting prospect was hard-hitting bantamweight Song Yadong (13-4, 1 no contest), a 20-year-old bantamweight who left his home country for Team Alpha Male in Sacramento. In his win over Felipe Arantes (18-10-1, 2 no contests), his second in the UFC, he not only dominated the fight, but scored a clean highlight-reel knockout at the end of the second round from an elbow coming out of the clinch. The win was impressive enough that anyone at that age with that kind of a performance should get some notice.
It’s a process that has taken place around the world and almost always takes time. The sport is introduced on television. People start to teach it and younger kids start to learn it. Yadong, who would have been 12 when the UFC first hired Fischer and started eying the market, would be the first UFC fighter to come from that generation.
Let’s look at how Fortunes changed for five stars of the Saturday show.
LEON EDWARDS - Edwards (16-3) scored the biggest win of his career over Donald Cerrone on straight 48-47 scores in the main event. This gives Edwards eight wins in his last nine outings, with the lone loss to Kamaru Usman, who is one of the top fighters in the welterweight division.
Edwards won the first three rounds on two scorecards, winning the first two solidly, followed by close rounds in three and four, which the judges were split on. Cerrone took the fifth round on all three cards.
DONALD CERRONE - Often when a fighter who has been in the spotlight as long as Cerrone loses to a fighter so much lesser known, people start asking questions. One of the busiest fighters in company history, Cerrone (33-11, 1 no-contest) missed his chance to break the three-way tie for most wins in UFC history with 20, a record he shares with the now-retired Michael Bisping, and Georges St-Pierre.
Cerrone was sick enough that he nearly canceled the fight, but hardly looked either sick or broken down in the cage in a close fight. But the reality is welterweight is always going to be a challenge for Cerrone, a career lightweight who gives up size to most opponents in his current division.
With his name from his longevity, being a top star dating back to the WEC days, and with a history of exciting fights, this loss did nothing to really hurt him. A good next opponent could be Santiago Ponzinibbio (26-3), who has been out of action after surgery on his left hand. Ponzinibbio should be cleared for training in a few weeks.
JESSICA EYE - Eye (13-6, 1 no contest) looked crisp in her second bout since moving to flyweight.
Eye, in an impassioned speech, said that she was never comfortable as a bantamweight because she felt she was giving up too much size.
Eye was 10-1 as a flyweight when she came into UFC, but only went 1-5 with one no-contest as a bantamweight. Eye didn’t have a chance to fight in any other division until the UFC recently established the flyweight division for women.
Eye’s next fight should be against the winner of a July 28 fight with two other former bantamweights, former title contender Alexis Davis (19-7) against Katlyn Chookagian (10-1). Davis beat Eye via split decision four years ago in the heavier division.
OVINCE SAINT PREUX - Things did not look good early for Saint Preux (23-11), as he was hit with high kicks and then dropped early in the fight. But when Tyson Pedro’s attempt to take him down wound up with Saint Preux on top, Saint Preux quickly scored the submission with an Americana.
A first-round submission win looks good, but the early moments of the fight were worrisome. An interesting opponent for him would be Anthony Smith (29-13), who finished Rashad Evans quickly in Chicago. Jan Blachowicz (22-7), coming off his upset win over Jimi Manuwa, would be a better name as far as being established at the top longer. Another interesting name would be Nikita Krylov (24-5), who the expectations are will be returning for the September show in Moscow.
PETR YAN - The Russian boxer who had been bantamweight champion with the ACB promotion stopped Teruto Ishihara (11-6-2), knocking him down twice in a first round win.
Yan, with his moving forward hard punching style moved like a smaller version of Dan Henderson. A good next step would be Iuri Alcantara (36-9). But Yan made the kind of debut that should put him immediately on everyone’s radar.