“We’ve got Saturday’s event in Singapore, and we’re looking at a couple of events this year in Macau,” Fischer told USA TODAY Sports and MMAjunkie. “We’re looking, as well, at a new multi-year agreement to come to Japan at least once a year. We’re in discussions with partners in Seoul, Manila, Bangkok and Jakarta. I don’t expect all of these to happen in 2014, but we’ll be coming to all of these places soon enough. Mainland China is also on the horizon.
“We’re turning from sort of a one-off event to really a self-sustaining business model. We’re building up the team to make that happen.”
The UFC recently shifted its Asian headquarters from Beijing to Singapore, where Fischer said the promotion can more easily manage its aggressive expansion in the region. While the company will maintain an operations base in China, a staff of 20 is now on site in Singapore.
“We see this as the beachhead for continued entry and exploration, if you will, of all of the Southeast Asian markets such as Indonesia, Thailand, Philippines, Vietnam, Malaysia and more,” Fischer said. “There are huge populations in these countries, and they all have deep martial arts roots and traditions. They’re all catching on to the move toward MMA.”
The UFC visited Japan four times between 1997 and 2000, but did not return to Asia until 2012, when the company hosted a single event in Saitama, Japan, just north of Tokyo. In 2013, the company returned to Saitama and also visited Macau.
This year, Fischer believes the company will prove its long-term commitment to the market.
“Like anything, it takes time,” Fischer said. “A long journey starts with a single step. But by having more fights in this region, we open up many more spots and convenient opportunities for fighters from Asia and create local relevance by having these fights in Asia.
“I think educating and exposing people to the sport in the right way is the most important goal right now. It’s going to take time to develop, but it really is happening.”
In addition to executing the increased number of live events, Fischer and his team are also focused on developing sponsorship opportunities, merchandising deals and television relationships throughout the region. But since returning to Asia in 2012, UFC officials have already signed broadcast agreements that now make the promotion’s programming available to 1.5 billion Asian viewers, according to Fischer.
But the exec believes there’s much more to come, and it all kicks off on Saturday night.
“It’s symbolic that this is the first event of the year for the UFC,” Fischer said. “It’s also the first event on the new UFC Fight Pass digital offering, and it’s the first one of, we think, many events in Asia. It’s not going to be a one-off. We’re going to have five, six, maybe even seven events in 2014, and we’re going to be doing at least that many in the years to come.
“Our intent is to really build up the local relevance, to really educate the fans here and turn them from aware to interested and from interested to passionate, as we have elsewhere around the world. Once people have a chance to see this sport and all the excitement and drama behind it, not to mention the virtuous characteristics of the athletes, the sky is the limit.”