In November 2012, me and a few buddies jumped on a ferry and headed to Macau to watch Cung Le knock out Rich Franklin in the first round of their headline fight at the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s first ever show in China.

Two years later and Franklin is senior vice president at One Fighting Championship, Cung Le has become a huge part of the UFC story in China, and the industry of mixed martial arts in Asia has gone from strength to bloody strength.

Asia is now home to a widening pool of worldclass talent, with homegrown promoters from the Singapore-based ONE FC; RUFF in China; Korea’s ROAD FC and Pacific Xtreme Combat and the URCC in the Philippines hosting mega events every month.

Right across Asia there’s literally thousands of smaller promoters, gyms, dojos, muay thai camps, boxing, wrestling and jiu-jitsu clubs developing the next generation of fighters.

As mixed martial arts around the globe finds millions of new supporters, Asia is developing its own unique brand of fighting and its own unique place in the evolving narrative of MMA. And Asia, with its deep fighting roots, is ripe for growth.

Centuries of tradition have helped establish Asia as the fastest-growing MMA market in the world.

The region is the birthplace to many of the classical elements which form the core of mixed martial arts today: Jeet Kune Do, karate, taekwondo, judo, sanda, wushu and kung-fu.

While mixed martial arts is now widely considered the world’s fasting growing sport, it is arguably the most misunderstood. Just 11 years ago, the UFC was an organisation heading towards bankruptcy alongside a sport that to many was simply underground and violent.

In the early 1990s, senator John McCain famously described mixed martial arts as “human cockfighting” and petitioned governors of all 50 US states to ban UFC events, including New York – where the ban still exists to this day.

But don’t be fooled by the tattoos and shaved heads: mixed martial arts is a world of tacticians, innovators and traditionalists.

ROUGH tells the story of mixed martial arts as it is today: an ever expanding culture that now reaches way beyond the realms of where it started.

It’s hard to imagine any other sport in history which has attracted so much attention, gained so much notoriety and pushed so quickly towards mainstream acceptance.

About The Author

Matt Eaton
Editor in Chief

Matt Eaton writes about sport and business for numerous magazines and newspapers across Asia.