IN THE OCTAGON: Cung Le headlines blockbuster UFC Macao

September 10, 2012

By BRIAN MALLON/ Special to The Asahi Shimbun

This is the 10th installment of London-based writer Brian Mallon's column on the Ultimate Fighting Championship for The Asahi Shimbun. Mallon has been a martial arts practitioner, UFC fan and journalist for many years. The biweekly feature appears every other Monday.

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In this week’s column, we look forward to UFC Macao after the UFC’s official announcement last week of what is shaping up to be a night to remember. We examine the widespread reports of the UFC’s rumored “Japan series” and find out who Hector Lombard will face as he attempts to rebound from his disappointing Octagon debut.

The UFC has spoken for years about Asia being the “promised land” in terms of its worldwide expansion. As the universally recognized birthplace of martial arts, South Korea, Japan and China remain key growth areas in the strategic plans of MMA promotion company Zuffa’s top brass.

Zuffa's first venture into China will see two seasoned and respected MMA veterans headline an already promising bill.

Rich “Ace” Franklin and former Strikeforce middleweight champion Cung Le will meet at the Cotai Arena in Macao on Nov. 10. Le, of course, will bring more than a touch of glamour to the UFC’s second 2012 trip to Asia. The Vietnamese-American action-film star with more than 500,000 followers on his Weibo social media account will bring a huge number of eyes to what will be a landmark event.

With Franklin, however, Le will be facing an experienced and crafty former UFC champion who is known for his studious nature, renowned stamina and diligent fight preparation. The UFC will have no issue filling the 15,000-capacity arena.

The undercard features an array of top tier Asian MMA talent. South Korean standout Kim Dong-hyun will lock horns with Brazilian super cop Paulo Thiago, who is seeking to bounce back from a devastating knockout at the hands of rising welterweight contender Siyar Bahadurzada at UFC Sweden.

Inner Mongolia’s Zhang Tiequan will meet Guam’s Jon Tuck in a bout that will undoubtedly have the home fans on their feet. South Korean debutant Kang Kyung-ho will be welcomed to the Octagon by the flamboyant Alex Caceres, while Japanese fighters Yasuhiro Urushitani of Ehime Prefecture, Takeya Mizugaki of Ibaraki Prefecture, Riki Fukuda of Gifu Prefecture and “The Fireball Kid” Takanori Gomi of Kanagawa Prefecture, will also feature on a packed undercard.

UFC Asia managing director Mark Fischer was clear as to what this event means to the sport of mixed martial arts

“Our debut into Greater China is a huge milestone in UFC history and demonstrates the immense popularity and acceptance of the sport on a global stage. This is certainly one of the single biggest sporting events to hit the Hong Kong and Macao area, and the global attention this event will receive pays tribute to the birthplace of martial arts.”

RUMORS OF JAPAN SERIES PERSIST

As China readies for the arrival of the UFC juggernaut, Japanese fans await confirmation as to the accuracy of persistent rumors that the UFC will be returning to the Land of the Rising Sun for a series of small shows in 2013.

As we first reported in May (ajw.asahi.com/article/sports/topics/AJ201205210076), the UFC has pinpointed a growth plan for Japan that will see a staging of smaller stadium events to revitalize the sleeping giant that is Japanese MMA.

February’s Tokyo event was a resounding success, but as UFC chief Lorenzo Fertitia revealed to In the Octagon: “We will be back in 2013. We haven’t scheduled an exact date yet, but Japan will be on our calendar, and then we’ve got to figure out from there if there’s a way to do more than just one event per year. Is there a way to do maybe one big event and then do four to six smaller events or something like that.”

Industry sources have reported that an announcement of just such a series of events is imminent. The premise is that rising Japanese stars will hone their skills in smaller arenas in front of local fight fans while simultaneously boosting grass-roots Japanese MMA. We will of course have more up to date news on these developments as they are confirmed.

LOMBARD RETURNS AFTER LACKLUSTER DEBUT

Australia will host the return of its adopted son to the Octagon when former Bellator champ Hector Lombard meets fellow middleweight powerhouse Rousimar Palhares.

Lombard’s stock took a significant hit in the eyes of many who had touted him as a prospective challenger to Anderson Silva’s 185-pound title. He remains a threat to anyone in the division, though perhaps Palhares’ frightening leg submissions may convince him that his future lies at welterweight.

MARTIAL ARTS VISIONARY FEATURES IN MACAO BUILDUP

As Asian fans this week enthusiastically peruse the promotional poster for the anticipated Macao bill, one legendary figure takes center stage on the poster. It is, of course, the late martial arts visionary Bruce Lee.

Considered by many the most influential martial arts practitioner in history, Lee was decades ahead of his time in terms of promoting cross training and not limiting oneself as a martial artist to one rigid style or series of techniques. His parents gave him the name “Jun-fan,” literally translated to mean “to arouse to the active state,” and many believe it was his hybrid philosophies that gave birth to modern day mixed martial arts.

Lee was raised in Hong Kong, and so it is appropriate that "Hong Kong's favorite son" should feature prominently on the event’s promotional poster surrounded by some of Asia’s modern day gladiators.

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By BRIAN MALLON/ Special to The Asahi Shimbun
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Cung Le, right, who will headline UFC Macao in November, fights against Patrick Cote at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in July. (AP)

Cung Le, right, who will headline UFC Macao in November, fights against Patrick Cote at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in July. (AP)

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  • Cung Le, right, who will headline UFC Macao in November, fights against Patrick Cote at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in July. (AP)

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