The argument that “The Kill” casts the longest shadow as a foreigner in Asia’s fight scene is hard to dispute.
In MMA alone he has amassed an impressive 34-14 record since his debut in 2010 that has seen him range far afield as Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines. And, of course, China.
Will Chope, the six-four tall Florida native dubbed “The World’s Tallest Featherweight”, has fought more than 20 times before in the CKF, WBK, HWF, WLF and other Chinese MMA and K1 shows, but mainly in Shanghai and Guangzhou. Now he’s set to conquer Tianjin, the largest coastal city in northern China.
“I have been to China a few times in the past for extended stays before,” Chope says.
“Tianjin is a brand new city for me and the fourth largest in China. China is a good place to make money coaching and fighting also be a great place to be if you want to stay very active fighting K1 & MMA, as there are tons of fight shows that take place every weekend.”
And they are always looking to have good foreign fighters fight their locals.
Tianjin is a metropolis deep into modernisation, as a seaport it’s filled with industrial complexes, manufacturing parks and shipping and receiving headquarters of petrochemical companies, textiles, car manufacturing, mechanical and metalworking plants. But it’s also full of historical heritage sites like temples, cultural and nature spots for tourists that form much of the economic lifeblood of the 16 million-strong populace.
Tianjin is also part of the fighting “Silk Road” that has seen tremendous growth since MMA made inroads in China’s sporting scene. Used to be, China’s top fighters would head south to train, while foreigners and local Thai fighters headed north to cash in on China’s burgeoning fight scene and take a slice of the relatively high payout for fighters.
That is no longer the case as the city has seen a spike in MMA dojos being established and the burgeoning Tianjin Top Team has pro fighters like Zhengzheng Yue and ONE Championship standouts Xie Bin and Ma Jia Wen calling it home.
CHINA HAS THE HIGHEST AVERAGE PAY FOR FIGHTS COMPARED TO OTHER COUNTRIES I HAVE FOUGHT IN.
Will Chope will now see an extended stay in the city and with Tianjin Top Team as the primary location for his future fights in-country and the likes of Wen and Bin as training partners.
“[I will be] coming to Tianjin a lot more in the future for training and coaching. My family is still in Thailand and next weekend I’ll be going back to see my kids and finish up my training camp there for my upcoming boxing fight.”
And while foreign-born pro sportsmen have mainly complained about the city’s poor air quality, citing it as being thick enough to “taste,” Chope says that his adjustment has nothing to do with the cloak of Chinese smog.
“The hardest thing for me here has to be learning Chinese. It’s by far one of the toughest languages to learn, in my opinion.”
Since his debut in June 2010, Chope has had 97 professional fights in various combat sports, and now he sees that competing regularly in the sweet science will not only greatly add to his revenue stream but also improve his striking tremendously.
“I have been focused a lot on boxing lately,” Chope said. “I’m not completely switching over, but I do want to be able to balance a successful boxing and MMA career, simultaneously.
“I’ve also had a long layoff, for the first time in my career. I haven’t fought since October. But I am booked to fight in Australia. And after that fight expect me to fight every month, as per usual.”
On 16 March Chope will be heading to Perth to fight in a boxing match at Thunderdome 24 against Australia’s Millad Farzad for the W.A. Super Middleweight belt.
Now that he’s immersed in Northern China’s fight scene, Chope is of the opinion that MMA and combat sports competition in general has exploded since he started competing in-country way back in the post-noughts.
“Three things stand out to me fighting here: first is just how many shows are taking place on a weekly basis all over China. The growth of combat sports since my first time fighting here in 2011 to now has been incredible. The shows are bigger and more frequent, the fighter level has significantly increased as well.
“The second thing has to be the money. China has the highest average pay for fights compared to other countries I have fought in, including America.
“Third thing [I’ve noticed is] definitely, as a foreigner here, is [their] nationalism. They love their local fighters and it doesn’t matter how many times I fight here, I always have to overcome the biased crowd and judging. I know that might discourage a lot of fighters, but it definitely motivates me to fight harder.”
Chope is a BJJ blue belt under Luke Adams, and he’s also trained in Wushu Xanda, but his signature rangy and heavy clinching style, making the best use of his height and reach, that he calls “lanky madness” is all his own, honed over the years from various coaches all over Asia.
“I think all the fights I had in a short period of time really made me develop my style,” Chope said. “It’s definitely a weird style considering how tall I am and since I fight in the lower weight classes. All those fights just helped me learn real fast what works for me and what doesn’t. Trial and error.”
With his new base in Tianjin, Chope will continue to grind in China’s high-frequency and substantial-pay grade fight environment. As someone who’s beaten BJJ black belts and former champions from the URCC, King of the Cage and Pancrase, Chope’s skills will not only put food on the table for his family but also provide Chinese fight fans with the spectacle of the “lanky madness”, the killer laowai in the cage duking it out with China’s best.
“I always say I’m from America, but Asia is my home. I have been here nearly my entire adult life. I fell in love with this side of the world while fighting and training and now its home.”