MMA: I'm UFC's face in Asia, says mixed-race fighter Dodson

UFC fighter John Dodson, who is half Filipino and half African- American, says that for the franchise to succeed in Asia, it needs someone whom people can identify with. In the region, it ranks second behind the One Championship which is based in Singapor
UFC fighter John Dodson, who is half Filipino and half African- American, says that for the franchise to succeed in Asia, it needs someone whom people can identify with. In the region, it ranks second behind the One Championship which is based in Singapore. ST PHOTO: TIFFANY GOH FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

If the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) wants to take off in Asia, it needs to find local stars who can help establish a connection between supporters and the mixed martial arts (MMA) fighters.

American bantamweight John Dodson, who is in Singapore on a two-day stopover, pointed to the region's rich martial arts heritage and said: "Fighting came from here... It's everywhere - in the cartoons and you have action figures.

"The Asian market needs one person to rise up to represent (their country), someone who can speak the language and with whom people can identify with."

The athlete cited himself as the right person to bring the world's No. 1 MMA promotion out of Las Vegas and into the region.

Said the 31-year-old, currently ranked ninth on the UFC bantamweight rankings: "I am half Filipino and half black, and I can make that switch when relating to two different groups of people.

"I will be that candidate to bridge that gap and make it relatable for them (the fans). The Asian market needs one person who can do that."

In his first trip to South-east Asia, he conducted a fitness workout session for more than 30 people at Marina Bay yesterday, before flying to Manila today for a promotional tour. An announcement will be made tomorrow to reveal an event the UFC will host in Asia this year.

UFC, which has set up its regional headquarters in Singapore, has made forays into new territories in recent years.

"Shows were held five times in Asia in 2014 (Singapore, Abu Dhabi, Japan and twice in Macau), and thrice last year (Manila, Japan and Seoul).

Dodson agreed that even though the UFC boasts the sport's top stars including Conor McGregor, Ronda Rousey and Holly Holm, it is No. 2 behind the Singapore-based One Championship in South-east Asia.

The southpaw, who holds a black belt in Brazilian jiu jitsu and has an 18-7 win-loss record in the Octagon, believes the UFC can do more to expand further in this region.

He said: "Instead of waiting for people to come, we need to go ahead to branch out and say to people, 'I need to go to your country.'

"We need to start marketing it correctly, making sure that everyone knows the fighters and they can watch all the fights.

"I want to see us outshine football here."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 22, 2016, with the headline 'I'm UFC's face in Asia, says mixed-race fighter Dodson'. Print Edition | Subscribe