Written by: Karim Zidan
Only three shows into the promotion’s young history, RUFF has already separated itself from the pack of upstart promotions in the region. Unique in several aspects, this Chinese promotion has already made several international MMA headlines, most recently with their historic partnership with Nike. Could this be a sign of things to come?
The Ranik Ultimate Fighting Federation (RUFF) shocked many international fans when they were given the sole permit to stage Mixed Martial Arts events in China. The reason behind this is quite simple: the communist regime in China saw an opportunity to nationalize the sport. Their goal is to transform the RUFF promotion into a haven for Chinese break-out stars and future national champions. It was a golden opportunity handed to RUFF to offer MMA as a new form of entertainment in the Chinese market. It also offered Chinese citizens a chance to get behind fighters that would eventually become national stars. All these benefits would have been harder to reap with the ZUFFA-owned UFC.
RUFF does not allow non-Chinese fighters in their promotion–or at least fighter who do not have a work permit–a rule implemented by the sanctioning body of the event, the Wushu Administrative Center. Their intention was to start a national promotion, and that meant crowning Chinese national champions that local fans could relate to, not simply writing a cheque for the first available UFC cast-away to sell a hundred Pay-Per-Views.
A major difference in the structure of RUFF is their conceptualization of the “Super Fight” event. This will be the grand event of the year, during which the title-challengers from all seven divisions (flyweight through light-heavyweight) will compete in inaugural title-bouts that will crown the first ever national champions in each weight class. The winners are expected to earn 1,000,000 RMB (equivalent to approx $159,000) for their efforts and will be treated as national stars. The Super Fights event is expected to take place in 2013.
Recently, RUFF announced through their website that they had partnered with both sport shoes and apparel giant Nike and famed Italian motorcycle company Ducati, which was recently sold to Audi/Volkswagen for 1.12 billion dollars. Sponsorship deals of that magnitude are unheard of in MMA.
It goes without saying that these sponsorships will help legitimize MMA in China. These partnerships could also potentially rub-off on the UFC and its fighters. In fact, Malki Kawa recently spoke about his interest having Jon Jones sponsored by Nike.
RUFF’s historic progressions in its short yet thriving history will undoubtably help the Chinese MMA scene. Their nationalistic goals, supported by the Chinese political structure, could prove to be the defining characteristics that separate RUFF from other organisations at it continues to rise in popularity.