A NEW MMA INDUSTRY ASSOCIATION IS PART OF GROWING SIGNS THAT HONG KONG IS RETURNING TO FORM AS A MMA HUB, WRITES MATT EATON.

Hong Kong’s fighting roots run deep. But in recent years the sport of mixed martial arts has struggled to produce fighters on the scale that neighbouring countries such as Japan, Philippines, Malaysia and, in particular Singapore, have produced.

Southeast Asia markets such as Singapore, Malaysia and Philippines are now widely considered hubs for mixed martial arts – and even when you bring China into the equation, the argument doesn’t change all that much.

The growth of training camps like Evolve MMA and Tiger Muay Thai are producing world champion fighters faster than anywhere else in Asia, perhaps event the more established markets of Australia and the US.

For Hong Kong, it’s been a complex journey down the path of MMA.

While the city had an early start into the industry through the now defunct Legend Fighting Championship, more recent years have seen the sport struggle to find widespread support.

Launched in 2009 by Mike Haskamp and Chris Pollak, Legend FC held its first event in January 2010 at Star Hall in Hong Kong in front of an audience of just over 1,000 fans, but grew into one of the most well-known elite-level MMA competitions in Asia.

In 2011, the company signed an agreement with Macau’s City of Dreams to produce an ongoing series of MMA tournaments and the first event took place in July 2011. Broadcast deals with Sony Pictures Television and ESPN soon followed.

In late 2014, after holding 11 events in locations such as Hong Kong, Macau and Malaysia, Legend FC shut its doors for good, with reports suggesting that CA Media, a part owner and primary investor behind the promotion, withdrew its funding.

But alongside the demise of Legend FC is the rise of Macau – a market which UFC has courted as a stepping stone to Mainland China, but after three events, there are now doubts that UFC will return to the gambling enclave in 2015, leaving another vacuum for fans, fighters and sponsors.

The newly renamed One Champion has also put the brakes on plans to hold an event in Hong Kong, opting instead to play its hand in the Mainland China market.

Thomas Fan ROUGH MMA HONG KONG

Thomas Fan, president of the newly formed Hong Kong China Mixed Martial Arts Association, sanctioned and oversaw the inaugural IMPI Fighting Championship World Series.

But Hong Kong is witnessing a resurgence of sorts, with a newly formed Hong Kong China Mixed Martial Arts Association (HKCMMA), which aims to grow the sport of MMA regionally.

Last year HKCMMA sanctioned and oversaw the inaugural IMPI Fighting Championship World Series, a tournament launched by former ONE FC fighter Vuyisile Colossa.

IMPI featured a host of world-class talent, including a lightweight match between former Malaysian FC Donald Tong and Legend FC regular Kenny Yeung.

IMPI’s first event was a welcomed addition to Hong Kong’s resurgent MMA scene with fans turning up in big numbers to support their town. A second event IMPI is scheduled for July this year.

While the Asian MMA does have an exciting future, the Hong Kong experience shows it’s not smooth sailing for everyone involved.