Bruce Lee was ahead of the curve by about four decades when he predicted back in the early 1970s that combat sports would one day take the world by storm.
Hong Kong’s favorite son had encouraged his own students to mix up the styles of martial arts they were being trained in — to combine kung fu with judo and just about everything else available — just as he did on screen in such international box office hits as “Enter the Dragon” (1973).
Now, “mixed martial arts” is the fastest growing sport in the world and as well as giving its millions of fans a new style of competition to watch, MMA has altered the broadcasting landscape in terms of how its content is produced and distributed.
Along with traditional live event broadcasts, MMA promotions were among the first to offer content partners — and the public — behind-the-scenes documentaries, training videos, highlight packages and short multi-media blasts suited to social platforms.
“The task is creating media that relates MMA to the masses,” explained Matthew Kwok, president of the California-based Kwokman Prods., the sports and entertainment company that works with such major sports as the NFL and its “Monday Night Football,” ESPN’s college football and basketball as well as others.
Kwok — who swam for Hong Kong at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 — has recently been one of the driving forces behind the re-launch of Hong Kong’s Legend Fighting Championship promotion, along with the U.S.-based Audie Attar, president of Paradigm Sports Management, which counts among its clients MMA superstar Conor McGregor.
“There’s an opportunity here to create great content but not only that, there’s an opportunity for the fighters and the fans to take hold of what is a phenomenon,” said Attar. “Now we have to deliver the content as it is needed by different platforms — that’s today’s world.”
Legend FC was among the ground-breakers in terms of MMA in Asia, where the sport’s rise has been relatively more recent — ironic, in a way, given the fact that Bruce Lee is known as the “grandfather of MMA.” Under its original management, Legend ran fight cards mainly in Hong Kong and nearby Macau, featuring international fighters, which were broadcast globally from 2009 to 2013.
Kwok and Attar have refocused the company specifically on Chinese fighters and the Chinese market, in terms of both fight cards and the content they will produce. Legend re-launched with a fight card in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou last September and is working now on a rollout of event across the year in China — as well as on how to produce and distribute its content.
“From food to culture to esports — how can we relate our athletes to the audience in such as way so that the like these people as individuals on top of the sport?” said Kwok. “I think that [is what] draws the audience into the MMA lifestyle.”
In terms of the Asian region as a whole, the major combat sports player has been the Singapore-based ONE Championship group, which plans to this year host around 40 events across the region, with cards including MMA bouts as well as in traditional martial arts such as Muay Thai. OME has also been staking its claim as an international player, by signing stars from the Las Vegas-based Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) — among them all-time great Demetrious Johnson —and readying itself for a mega-fight night in Tokyo on March 31.
ONE: A New Era features the likes of Johnson and fellow former-UFC champion Eddie Alvarez, with four of ONE’s world titles up for grabs. Such moves have led to deals with the likes of the TNT network, while ONE has also been expanding its horizons in terms of the content it provides to the public and to its broadcast partners.
The promotion last year produced a mobile app that provides free coverage of its fights, while other initiatives include a planned foray into the world of esports.
“We’re a sports media company and a big part of the secret sauce is content and content that speaks to the audience all over the world,” said ONE Group president Hua Fung Teh. “We have a very broad distribution strategy. There’s a lot of variety, from live event to reality shows, highlights, vlogs, magazine shows, interview shows and clips that chronicle the athletes’ stories. Our content is both short and long form, comes in different languages, and in some cases is even local-market specific. It’s a mass audience that we are trying to reach and this requires a mix of content offerings.”
The results have been impressive, with ONE claiming an average viewership of 20 million — up from 1 million in 2015.
The people behind Legend are looking directly at those sorts of opportunities.
“The key is creating media content that the individual market wants to consume,” said Kwok. “It’s about us creating the content to feed the market’s desire in a particular way.”