Fightsport Article on S Korean MMA

from Fightsport:

Special report from Shimura Funaki in South Korea.

When news of a possible Sapp vs Tyson fight hit South Korea there was pandemonium in the streets. The popularity of MMA in this country has experienced a massive boost over the past year or so and it was evident when the news reached the masses. The top MMA shows such as Pride and K-1 have inspired hundreds of thousands of teenagers to collect cards, T-Shirts and other merchandise of their favorite MMA stars. It has also inspired 3 new MMA organizations to start in Korea, all trying to win the fans adulation as the premium event. The three organizations do not feel the market is big enough for them all and they are going to risk all in an effort to capture the lions share of the market. Already names such as Vitor Belfort, Vanderlei Silva, Randy Couture, Royce Gracie, Rickson Gracie, Mirko Cro-Cop and Bob Sapp are being mentioned as the level of fighter who's services the Korean organizations intend to secure.

Spirit MC, a Korean version of Pride FC is a Japanese brand featuring open-finger gloves, allowing fighters both standing and grappling skills, will launch an international amateur championship at the KBS 88 Stadium in Seoul on Feb. For the first time in its two year history, foreign fighters are invited to compete. Previously only Koreans could compete in this event. Winners can earn a ticket to the main Spirit MC championships that will be held in Seoul four to six times this year.

NeoFight, is similar to Spirit MC in rules but it limits ground time to keep the pace exciting, Neofight will host five championships this year, including the heavyweight title bouts in Seoul on March 20. They also intend to hold an event in Pusan in April to reach MMA fans outside of Seoul.

The third organization, Strikick is similar to K-1, allowing fighters to use only kicks and punches. No ground fighting is permitted. On an unusual note Strikick holds daily matches, except Sundays, from 9 p.m. at Gimme Five, a live sports and entertainment restaurant, located in the COEX Mall in Samsung-dong, southwestern Seoul. Sitting at a table in the multi-purpose hall, fight fans might get a taste of what it was like to be a spectator at an amphitheater in Rome, eating food, drinking wine while watching the gladiators battle it out.

While the market here is still developing the venues are varied, Spirit MC use an Octagonal ring like the one used by BEST in Japan, to the dining table format by Strikick.

The local organizations face stiff opposition from satellite broadcasts of Pride, K-1 and the Inoki shows. Oddly, the fans here have little interest in the UFC which they consider to be a feeder bracket to the big shows much in the way BEST is seen by them. The local shows realize that they have to raise the bar in order to win the fans over from the blockbuster Japanese events and they are prepared to spend big dollars in the pursuit of glory. A spokesman for Spirit MC said "We expect to have some of MMA's biggest stars fight in our shows this year. This is the make or break year for all of us. Whoever has best show this year will control MMA in Korea."