Sport

Martial match-ups

Kung-fu show aims to replicate popular US formula

The original 'ultimate fighter'

As far as bar room chats go, it seems to rank up there with debates on whether a lion will always get the better of a tiger.

But there are some for whom discussion of Jackie Chan’s capacity to trounce Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, or whether Jet Li could send Chuck “The Iceman” Liddell to the canvas, is still worth serious thought.

Liddell and Jackson currently battle it out in one of the world’s fastest growing sports. They are mixed martial artists in the increasingly prominent Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC).

As an entertainment brand, the UFC is sweeping all before it, and taking in more in pay-per-view television revenue than professional boxing.

Perhaps it is the commercial success of the UFC that has caught the interest of Chinese state broadcasters, because they too are talking of a mixed martial arts competition, albeit one with a Chinese flavour.

Sanlian Life Weekly magazine reports that a new series of “Martial Arts Assembly” tournament will begin on a CCTV sports channel this month, this time with six teams competing for honours.

CCTV Sports hopes eventually to be able to sell it to international audiences.

The Ultimate Fighting Championship – based in the US – follows a mixed martial arts or “MMA” agenda, based around skills in boxing, Greco-roman wrestling and Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

The premise is that the fighters’ skills are spread across the different techniques.

So a shorty with a good right hand always has a chance of knocking out a chunkier judo adherent. But on the ground even the best boxer in town can be beaten by someone who knows how to wrestle.

The Chinese version is based on wu shu, which translates literally to “martial arts.” Jet Li is probably the most famous practioner, although wu shu is recognized more for the graceful, athletic style of its presentational routines than in direct, competitive combat.

This is something that the Wushu Masters Association (WMA) wants to change. It is hopeful the Martial Arts Assembly brand can be a commercial success in China.

Like the UFC, one early challenge has been in working out the rules (early mixed martial arts events in the US started out with hardly any rules whatsoever, but now have a coda that fans can recognise).

Wu shu has at least 129 different styles, so an early decision has been taken to cap permitted techniques to 30, although this may change in future. There are no weight categories. Unsurprisingly, rope darts, staffs and hook swords will not be allowed either.

CCTV Sports is clearly setting up shop with the UFC in mind, and regards itself as the brand owner.

One risk is surely that the wu shu focus on self-improvement, including meditation, could lose something in a more commercialised approach. There is little that is graceful or self-denying about UFC bouts, for instance.

But the organisers actually claim the opposite; that wu shu will be boosted at grass roots level by the show’s prominence.

Besides, they say, Chinese viewers have been infatuated with Formula One, the English Premier League and the NBA for far too long. It’s time they had a sporting brand of their own to take to the world.


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