Sunday, 08 December 2013 20:17
TUF China Episode 1 Report
By Mark Harris
The first episode of The Ultimate Fighter China was entertaining, well-made television. The show had high production values and a sound sense of purpose. The UFC was promoted heavily and came across as a legitimate organisation. The use of footage from previous seasons, and interviews with this season’s fighters, helped make the UFC look like a major American company. The smartest comment to hype the UFC came from Wang Sai, who compared the UFC to the NBA. Basketball is one of the biggest sports in China, and you can find the NBA logo all over the place when you’re here, so the comment will have put the UFC over strong with new viewers.
The fighters on this season are a mixed bag of promising talent and hapless newbies. Cung Le made the point that the talent gap between the best and worst fighters on the show is huge. The two standout characters were probably Wang Sai (6-4-1, welterweight), who got the most character development and praise from the coaches, and Yang Jianping (6-3-1, featherweight) who was the first fighter chosen during the team selection. The quirkiest character this season is Li Jin Ying (0-0, welterweight), who admitted to having no MMA experience before sparring in front of the cameras. His appearance on the show is so bizarre I have to wonder if he’s only on to illustrate to viewers the level of training and experience that’s needed to succeed in MMA.
If I was in control of the UFC, I’d be mostly happy with how this first show went. The only significant problem occurred after the episode aired, when a post-show interview with Mark Fischer and Cung Le abruptly ended after 8 minutes. Aside from that, the production values were satisfying, the fighters were interesting, and the UFC got over as a legitimate company. With Hong Kong’s Legend FC promotion recently announcing that they’re ceasing operations, the show has come at a positive time for the UFC to lay its foundation in the Asian marketplace.
The first episode introduced us to this season’s coaches and fighters. Time was given for each fighter to develop character. The concept of The Ultimate Fighter was explained to new viewers. The fighters trained and sparred, and the coaches chose their teams for the season.
The show opened cold with Cung Le giving a motivational speech to this season’s fighters. He said the UFC’s arrival in China is ground-breaking and this season’s competitors are taking part in a historic event. The segment closed after two minutes with a credit sequence, where each fighter stated his aim to be the next Ultimate Fighter. The show fortunately had English subtitles, so I could pretty much understand everything that was said.
The first advertisement break came at two minutes into the show and actually lasted longer than the show’s opening segment. The Liaoning Satellite channel has a clock in the top right-hand corner of the screen which counts down to when the show is coming back on the air. This needs popularising. A promotional video for UFC Fight Night Singapore aired during the ads.
The show returned with a montage explaining the general premise of The Ultimate Fighter. It used footage from previous seasons of TUF and gave a history of the show. The video hyped that the fighters are training in a state-of-the-art facility, explained the win-lose dynamic of MMA, and called The Ultimate Fighter the toughest reality show in the USA.
A Chinese host, possibly Huang Jianxiang, explained from a studio-booth the format for the show. The 16 fighters, welterweights and featherweights, are split into two competing teams, and the teams compete within a tournament format. I’m sure most of you know this, but it was wise of the producers to hit the point home with the new audience. The two teams for this season are named Lion and Dragon. Team Lion wears yellow; Team Dragon wears red. Team Lion is coached by Ao Haolin; Team Dragon is coached by Zhang Tiequan. Red and yellow are of course the colours of the PRC flag, and lions and dragons appear frequently in Chinese myths and folk stories.
A montage was shown of the fighters arriving at their hotel. Some of the fighters called home to let their family know they’d arrived. In terms of social and moral value, family traditionally comes before everything else in China, so this will have endeared the fighters to a lot of the Chinese audience. Wang Sai got a visit from some of his relatives, including his brother, who he hadn’t seen in over 10 years. There are over 100,000,000 migrant workers in China, and a lot of children in recent generations have been separated from their parents and siblings at a young age. This moment with Wang Sai was actually one of the highlights of the show.
There was an interview montage shown where all the fighters said it was their dream to be the Ultimate Fighter. This segment will have also been designed to endear the fighters to the Chinese audience. There’s a popular dialogue going on in China now about the Chinese Dream, what it is and how it compares with the American Dream. Later in the show, Yang Jianping made the interesting comment that he wants to pursue his dream of competing in the UFC, rather than take over his family’s business. I would think that’s a controversial thing to say in China, but there’s a chance it will have resonated with how a lot of young Chinese people are feeling.
Zhang Tiequan, coach of Team Dragon, was shown entering the UFC training facility for the first time. He put over the octagon and the quality of the resources. He was soon followed by Ao Haolin, coach of Team Lion, who also put over the facilities. Neither apparently knew the other would be coaching on this season of the show.
Cung Le then entered and introduced himself to Zhang and Ao as the head coach for this season. Le’s introduction was a bit awkward since he can’t speak Mandarin, but they edited around it as if he was having a normal conversation with the coaches. Interviews were intercut at this point hyping Cung Le as a representative of Asia to the UFC. One of the coaches, in what I’d consider a case of over-exaggeration, compared him to Bruce Lee. Le advised the coaches to keep the fighters safe during training so they could all make it to their fights this season.
The fighters next arrived at the UFC training facility. They came across well here, jumping around and celebrating when they got into the building. It was the most testosterone I’ve seen on TV since coming to China. When they saw the octagon they all circled around it in a curious, semi-reverential sort of way.
An interview with Chong “Orangutan” Allen was shown. He spoke fluent English and came across very well. He explained he was from Malaysia and that his family frowned on MMA when he tried to enter it. He is now a jiu-jitsu instructor, but primarily works as a resident architect at a hospital site in Malaysia. Despite his job, he hasn’t been able to afford a honeymoon, so he said winning the Ultimate Fighter would be a coup for his wife more than anything.
Chinese fighter Ning Guangyou was then interviewed. Ning’s family also frowned on his decision to compete in MMA, but he does it because it’s his passion. At 32 he’s concerned he’s too old to be competing, but he no less said his goal is to be world champion.
The motivational speech that Cung Le made at the beginning of the show was aired in its entirety. He encouraged the fighters to show what they can do for the millions that are watching at home (we don’t know if it’s millions yet), and he encouraged them to fight for the six figure contract. Fighter interviews were intercut with this which put over Cung Le as an inspirational martial artist. The fighters were familiar with his past fights and his movies. Zhang Tiequan and Ao Haolin also stepped forward to make speeches, mainly wishing the fighters luck and encouraging them to work hard.
Cung Le split up the welterweight and featherweight fighters and sent them to training stations. The point of this segment was for the coaches to see who could do what before they chose their teams. In a funny spot, Ao taught Le how to say ‘Go!’/‘Get to work!’ before he shouted it in Mandarin.
Yoga instructor Li Jin Ying made his first appearance on the show announcing that he’s a shy person, but that he can bring something unique to the show. I hope he doesn’t intend to bust out a yoga exercise in his first fight. Wang Sai at this point made a comparison between the UFC and the NBA. The coaches were praising Wang’s skills throughout the training segment.
During the break advertisements aired for milk, milkshakes, children’s milk, and milk.
When the show returned it opened with a replay of an earlier montage of the fighters each stating their aim to be the next Ultimate Fighter. A scroll on the lower-half of the screen advertised resorts at the Cotai Strip of Macao, which is where I assume the TUF China Finale will be held in March.
The training segment ran for twenty minutes and was intercut with more fighter interviews. Standout featherweight Yang Jianping was interviewed: he said he may not be the best fighter on the show this season, but he is the most popular; before coming on the show he finished shooting a martial arts movie, presumably the one he’s in with Donnie Yen; his family want him to take over their family business, but he’s set on pursuing his dream to be the Ultimate Fighter.
Canadian-Chinese fighter Cheng Albert was then interviewed. Even though he was brought up in Canada he gave his interview in Mandarin. As you can probably guess, he said his dream is to compete in the UFC.
Shih “Zombie-pocalypse” Liang was interviewed saying he has a Law degree from Cornell University, and that he used to be a Wall Street lawyer. When he’s not training, he works as a movie producer. At the age 35, he sees his prospects in the UFC as limited, but even if he comes last in the competition he’s glad to have made it on to the show.
Cung Le gave an interview where he used the term “we” in talking about Asian athletes. He said Asia is among the best in the world at producing athletes. A continent of people has a fair chance of achieving that. I personally wouldn’t be too proud of how China produces its Olympic medallists though. Le’s goal is to take fighters from China, and elsewhere in Asia, to a higher level of MMA competition.
Huang Jianxiang reappeared in his studio to break down the fighting styles that go into MMA. He explained that UFC fights take place in an octagon, rather than a ring. They did a fairly good job of quickly educating the audience on this show.
Taiwanese fighter, and former Mafioso, Rocky Le gave his interview, putting over Ning Guangyou as a talented wrestler and potential rival. Orangutan was cut into this segment to make the point he has trained with Rocky and admires his striking abilities.
The training segment closed with the remaining fighters making quick comments on their own performance. Li Jin Ying said he hadn’t fought a round of MMA prior to this training camp, and he was nervous to be stepping into the octagon. I was convinced by this point he is only on the show to illustrate what it takes to compete in MMA. Ao tipped Wang Sai as the most impressive fighter during the sparring sessions, while Zhang Teiquan put in a good word for Wang Sai and Zhang Lipeng.
Before the next ad break, Cung Le gave an interview saying there’s a huge gap in talent between the best and worst fighters on the show. He said there’s a lot of training that needs to be done. Another advertisement for UFC Fight Night Indonesia played during the ad break.
Back from the break, the coaches discussed with their assistants who they wanted on their team. Cung explained to each coach that a coin toss would decide who would get to pick the first fighter or the first match. Team Lion won the coin toss, and Ao Haolin chose to pick the first fighter. He chose Yang Jianping. This segment went by quick, so pardon me for missing some of the team choices. I got down the following: Team Lion is made up of Yang Jianping, Wang Sai, Zhu Qing Xiang, Chong “Orangutan” Allen, Wang Anying, and three other fighters; Team Dragon is made up of Ning Guanyang, Zhu Lipeng, Yao Zhikui, He Jianwei, Wu Qize, Li Jin Yang, and two other fighters. Poor Li Yang was the last man chosen.
Cung Le laid out for each team what the season’s prizes were going to be. The best knockout of the season would earn $25,000; the best submission of the season would earn $25,000; the two fighters in the best fight of the season would earn $25,000; and the main prize is the six-figure contract for the winner of each weight division. $25,000 converts into ¥150,000, which is a life-changing sum of money in mainland China.
In an interview, Cung Le said Ao Haolin has the best team this season. That’s true. The teams were shown getting to know each other. The editing portrayed Team Lion as quick to build up camaraderie, whereas Team Dragon came across as argumentative. In another brief interview, which was a bit of a counterpoint to what the editing showed, Le spoke well of Zhang as the UFC’s first Chinese fighter, while lightly putting down Ao for not having any experience in the octagon. He said Ao, with having the better squad of fighters, had better not botch his training camp.
The fighters were taken back to their houses in the final segment of the show. Orangutan got himself over again in this segment with his facial expressions. In a funny spot, one fighter from Team Lion lay on a rug and moved himself around by jiggling his shoulders. All I can say is it was worthy of a gif. Team Dragon arrived at their home and looked like they were getting on better by this point. A preview of next week’s episode played. Benson Henderson is set to make a guest appearance.
After the episode finished a post-show interview took place with UFC’s Asia CEO Mark Fischer and Cung Le. Going by the UFC’s press release, I’m fairly sure the interviewer was Huang Jianxiang, a popular Chinese sports host. He asked Mark Fischer this zinger of a question: for those new fans who don’t know, what is the difference between KFC and UFC? What is the difference between the UFC and a UFO? Fischer handled the question well and put over the UFC. He said the point of TUF China is to discover talent and to introduce the fighters to a real training facility. Cung Le was asked what he means by the phrase “Asian power”, which he apparently uses a lot on his blog. He repeated his line from the show, where he said his aim was to take Asian mixed martial artists to a higher level of competition. He said grandmasters in China only pass on 75% of their knowledge before they die, which he considers a mistake. He wants to pass on 100% of his knowledge, so he doesn’t take any secrets with him to the grave. Huang Jianxiang asked what audiences can expect in the next 6 weeks of the show. A montage aired of Benson Henderson arriving at the training camp and two fighters pushing each other during a stare down, while Fischer said there would be drama. Cung Le was about to speak when the camera pulled back and the sound faded out. It was a bizarre end to an otherwise well-produced night of television.
About the Author
Mark Harris is a recent university graduate currently working in mainland China. To send feedback to his reports you can email
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TUF China Cast
By Mark Harris
N.B. In China, a person’s surname comes before their given name, so for most of these profiles I’ve put the surname first. I’ve made an exception for Cung Le, because I’m pretty sure everyone reading this knows Cung Le as Cung Le.
Cung Le (9-2), 41, Vietnam
Le is a martial arts icon and UFC middleweight fighter. He memorably defeated Frank Shamrock to win the Strikeforce Middleweight Championship in 2008. He is the head coach on this season of TUF China, and is expected to take on the kind of role Dana White plays in the USA version of the show.
Zhang Tiequan (15-4), 35, China
Zhang is a lightweight, and previously a featherweight, UFC fighter. He is 1-3 in the UFC. He became the first Chinese fighter to compete in the UFC when he fought Jason Reinhardt in 2011. He is recognised as China’s first brown belt in jiu-jitsu, and, like most fighters in this season’s cast, comes from a Sanshou fighting background.
Ao Haolin (8-0), China
Ao is a retired welterweight fighter who fought undefeated for China’s now defunct Art of War Fighting Championship promotion. Ao participated on the AOW 4 card, which was a somewhat landmark MMA event in China, due to it being televised on the state-owned CCTV-5 channel, albeit as a pay-per-view. Ao also headlined Art of War FC’s final card, AOW 15, in 2009.
Cheng Albert (2-2), aka Chang Kang, 28, Canada
Cheng is a Canadian martial artist coming from a wrestling background. He has trained in MMA for 5 years. The official TUF China press release lists his MMA record as 0-0, but Sherdog indicates that his actual record is 2-2.
Dong Xin (3-0), 22, China
Dong is meant to be one of the more charismatic fighters on this season of TUF. He trains with his team at Xi’an Sports Academy, which he calls China’s only authentic MMA training facility. In July, he gained a submission victory in 1 minute and 8 seconds at CMFA-1 held in Xi’an.
Li Jin Ying (0-0), 26, China
Li is a spiritualist yoga instructor “eager to be Asia’s biggest MMA star”. Yes, a yoga instructor. He has a photogenic face, the kind of face UFC would probably want to put on advertisements in China, but he apparently has no MMA experience and describes himself as shy.
Wang An Ying (2-0), 22, China
Wang is a Sanshou fighter and national Muay Thai champion. In 2012, he placed 5th in the China National Sanda Tournament. (As you probably know, Sanda is another name for Sanshou.) He trains, like Dong Xin, at Xi’an Sports Academy. He has the potential for a rivalry with fellow cast member Wang Sai, since he has openly stated that Wang is the toughest opponent he could face on the show.
Wang Sai (6-4-1), 27, China
To look at things from the beginning of this season, Wang Sai is probably the safest bet to win the welterweight contest. Wang is a Sanshou and BJJ fighter born in Shandong. He is one of the more experienced fighters on the show having fought for Legend Fighting Championship and Pacific Xtreme Combat. He has trained at Legacy Gym under Muay Thai fighter Ole Laursen, and currently trains with China Top Team in Beijing alongside Zhang Tiequan. Wang was at one point ranked 8th in China’s national Sanshou rankings.
Wu Qi Ze (1-1), 25, China
Wu is a China Top Team fighter who comes from a Muay Thai background. Despite the press release stating his record is 1-0, Wu can be seen on YouTube losing by TKO to Hong Seung Chan at PXC 34.
Zhang Li Peng (6-7-1), 23, China
Zhang is a graduate of Xi’an Sports University and originates from Hohhot, Inner Mongolia. He began training for MMA in 2008. As Zhang has fought for most major Chinese promotions, including Art of War, Legend FC, and RUFF, some websites reason that he is an MMA icon in China. It is worth noting, however, that he has fewer followers than Wang Sai on Weibo: Zhang is currently at 52,553 followers compared to Wang’s 116,837.
Zhu Qing Xiang (0-0), 30, China
Zhu is an experienced competitor on the Chinese amateur MMA circuit, and is the founder of a MMA gym in Tianjin. There is at least one video of Zhu in an amateur match on YouTube, where he gets a quick submission win and shows a fair amount of charisma in doing so. In the press release, Zhu prides himself on coming from a purely MMA background, rather than a Sanshou or wrestling background. There’s probably a great story that could be written on Zhu up to the point his life is at now, since he is said to have come from humble beginnings and founded his MMA gym after years of hard work.
Chong Allen Solomon (~3-2), 31, Malaysia
Chong is the owner of a MMA gym in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia. He is charismatic, relatively experienced, and possesses a purple belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu. He showed commendable submission skills in winning a lightweight tournament held earlier this year by the Malaysian Invasion Mixed Martial Arts (MIMMA) promotion.
Fu Chang Xin (0-0), 21, China
Fu is a newcomer to the sport who has previously participated in Chinese wrestling, or shuāijiāo, competitions. He is confident in his abilities, despite not having fought professionally before. He has an unfortunate backstory in that he lost both his parents when he was young.
Rocky Lee (3-0), aka Li Jun Han, 26, Chinese Taipei
Rocky is the only Taiwanese fighter featured on this season of the Ultimate Fighter. As his tattoos help to show, he was a part of the Chinese mafia until the age of 22, at which point he says he turned his life around with MMA. He is undefeated, although his last fight against Sang Kook Kim was a controversial split decision which Rocky probably should have lost. I can only imagine what went on behind-the-scenes.
He Jianwei (6-3), 24, China
He is a Sanshou-trained fighter who started training BJJ in 2012. His parents are farmers and he wants to raise his family out of poverty by competing for the UFC.
Ning Guangyou (3-2-1), 32, China
Ning is a Beijing-based fighter who has a fighting background in Greco-Roman wrestling. He has fought for AOW, Legend FC, and RUFF, and has a reputation for ground-and-pound. He lost to current UFC fighter Kyung Ho Kang at AOW 13, and aims to get a rematch with Kang in the UFC.
Shih "Zombie-pocalypse" Liang (1-0), 35, United States
Shih has been training in martial arts since childhood, and was inspired to train for MMA competition when he saw UFC 1 in 1993. It might be fair to assume he has an aggressive fighting style based on the “Zombie” element of his nickname. He has a law degree from Cornell University and also works as a movie producer, so we needn’t grieve if he doesn’t make it past the early stages of the contest.
Yang Jianping (6-3-1), 27, China
Yang is a Hunan born martial artist mentored by Zhang Tiequan. Yang is currently one of the most famous MMA fighters in China for a number of reasons. In 2011, he defeated Japanese fighter Sakano Nozomi in a fight that at one point saw Yang use a spectacular aerial pass to get around Nozomi’s guard. Videos of the fight have several million views on Youku. An element of the fight’s popularity is that, for historical reasons, many Chinese people have an intense hatred of Japan. The fact he beat a Japanese fighter made him something of a hero to Chinese nationalists (for those who believed the Nozomi fight wasn’t staged at any rate). Yang is also a Wushu World Champion and a movie star, who is soon to appear in a movie featuring Donnie Yen. In comparison to Wang Sai’s approximately 117,000 followers mentioned earlier, Yang has approximately 440,000 followers on Weibo. UFC should be over the moon if he progresses in this season’s featherweight contest.
Yao Zhikui (1-1), 22, China
Born in Henan, Yao has a background in Sanshou and Chinese wrestling. He was a provincial wrestling champion in his youth. Since 2011 he has trained in BJJ and Muay Thai. He is the younger brother of Chinese MMA fighter Yao Honggang, who was Legend FC’s first Bantamweight Champion. The younger Yao wants to surpass his brother’s achievements by succeeding in the UFC. He trains with China Top Team in Beijing.
About the Author
Mark Harris is a recent university graduate currently working in mainland China. To send feedback to his reports you can email