UFC lands first-ever card in China

Kevin Iole
Yahoo! Sports

It's difficult to upstage one of the most significant fights in company history, but UFC chairman Lorenzo Fertitta managed to do that on Tuesday when he announced a deal had been reached to put a card in China.

The UFC will host its first card in the country at The Venetian Macao's  in Macau, China, on Nov. 10. It will be broadcast on Fuel on Nov. 9 in the U.S. Fertitta made the announcement about the Chinese deal on the day of the news conference for the rematch between Anderson Silva and Chael Sonnen that will headline UFC 148 on Saturday.

"Everybody knows how important China is from an economic standpoint," Fertitta told Yahoo! Sports Tuesday. "There are over a billion potential customers there. And it's a market that has a very rich history with martial arts. This is a very significant day for us."

Details about the card are scarce and no fights have been announced. Fertitta, though, said that even though the card will be broadcast on Fuel, he plans to put the company's major stars on the card.

He ruled out the heavyweight title rematch between Junior dos Santos and Cain Velasquez for the card, saying he believes it fits best into a venue in the West Coast of the U.S. However, he insisted the first card on Chinese soil will include many of the promotion's biggest stars.

"From the Fuel standpoint, don't let that lead anybody to judge what kind of a card we're going to put on there," Fertitta said. "That it [is on Fuel] won't dictate the kind of card we'll put on. We're going to come out guns ablazing."

[Related: Watch UFC 148 live on Yahoo! Sports]

The UFC has been broadcasting its programming on a series of regional sports networks in China that reach a total of about 450 million homes for the last several years.

Fertitta said it has been difficult to get ratings information, but he said the cards have been "well-received."

He also said a plan that he began late last year to bring Chinese fighters to Las Vegas to train under elite MMA coaches and with high-level UFC fighters is beginning to bear fruit.

He said the quality of the fighters has improved, though he said none are currently at or near championship level.

"[Matchmakers] Sean Shelby and Joe Silva have been watching the fights on the local circuits over there and it's coming along," he said. "Are there guys now, or in the short-term future, who are going to come into the UFC and immediately be in our Top 10? No. They're not there yet.

"But having this live event there will be significant. People really like the ability to root for someone from their own country. And I think this market is going to be similar to the U.K. There wasn't a lot of elite talent there at first, but they were a fighting country and after we were there, it really started to come on and develop. I expect the same thing in China."

[Kevin Iole: Was Anderson Silva's uncharacteristic outburst a planned strategy?]

The fight will occur on the same weekend that Manny Pacquiao will box in the U.S., likely in Las Vegas. Pacquiao is a massive star in Macau and always draws many well-heeled gamblers to Las Vegas to see him fight.

Fertitta, though, isn't concerned about that.

"Believe me when I tell you, there are plenty of customers that that's not a concern at all," he said.

He said that though nothing has been finalized, the first show on the mainland would likely be at the new Mercedes Benz Arena in Shanghai, China. Fertitta said UFC officials would evaluate the card in Macau before determining their next step, but said Shanghai is the likely stop for the first mainland card.

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