Hong Kong’s only professional mixed martial arts tournament is back for more Thursday night in the form of Legend Fighting Championship 2 in Kowloon Bay. The combination of specialties such as Brazilian jujitsu, muay Thai boxing and wrestling, has a strong following in Asia, where Japan is currently the biggest market.
Legend co-founders Michael Haskamp and Chris Pollack announced their first TV deal this week. They didn’t reveal the terms of the deal, though Haskamp called it “vanilla,” and said it’s pretty standard as far as TV deals go. The two 30-something former finance workers are pumped about MMA’s “explosion all over the world,” Pollack said, pointing out the example of Ultimate Fighting Championship, which has a huge following in the U.S., being purchased by two then-casino executives in 2001 for US$2 million. They sold a 10% stake to Abu Dhabi-based Flash Entertainment for an undisclosed sum. The value of UFC is unknown, but company front-man Dana White told a newspaper they turned down a $1.2 billion cash offer in 2007.
Meanwhile, Legend’s co-founders are traveling the region, scouting fighters and learning from watching other fighting events. They’re constantly looking for new ways to expand.
“We will try almost everything,” Haskamp said, referring to the types of sponsors he’s seen drawn to the sport. While Legend is a young and flexible business, Haskamp said they have found dealmaking with bigger entities is much more cumbersome. The TV deal with KIX parent Tiger Gate Entertainment involved nine months of discussions, and they’re navigating their way through regional and global corporate bureaucracy with other sponsors such as Harley-Davidson. (Harley is a UFC sponsor in the U.S.)
They see Asia as a natural place for MMA’s expansion. UFC owners Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta did too—in 2007 parent company Zuffa bought UFC’s then biggest rival organization, Pride, based in Japan. But expansion plans there didn’t work out. Pride was closed within the year.
Martial arts like kung fu and san da were born in Asia, while “in the U.S. everything has been imported,” Haskamp said. The challenge is to reach out to the community, where reactions have varied from curiosity to a hesitance to dive into the very different style that comes when martial arts are mixed.
Kenny Yeung of Hong Kong in January’s tournament.
In the five months since the first Legend tournament in January, Haskamp and Pollack have been making changes to the event itself and they recently started a sponsored development program for local Hong Kong talent. Among the changes fans can see Thursday night are educational video clips after take-downs, intended to teach newbies about techniques. Ticket prices are lower too, which the two hope will make the event more accessible. They say there’s also strong interest from the finance companies in town, who have snapped up ring-side seats.
For the uninitiated, you might watch a fight clip on Youtube (National Geographic has a nice scientific look at just how hard they hit, but other clips can give you a better idea of what you’ll see live) to make sure you and yours are prepared for just how hard-core these bouts can be.
Thursday’s fighters hail from all over Asia, with local favorite Kenny Yeung, 28, returning to his hometown from training in Australia. The last fight of the night, between lightweights Australian Adrian Pang and South Korean Yu Woo Sung, is sure to be intense. In January, the decorated Pang defeated Yu’s teammate Nam Yui Chul.
During training Tuesday in Tsim Sha Tsui, Pang said he is psyched for the fight. He doesn’t know much about his opponent in the last fight of the night:
“I know the Koreans are tough. I fought his teammate in January and that was a tough fight. They’re big…and they’re very skilled as well.”
The fights will be broadcast in a week in Hong Kong on Now-TV, Indonesia and Singapore through the KIX network.
– Emily Veach