Shanghai (AFP) - Chinese fighters won five out of eight bouts on Saturday (Nov 25) including one of the quickest UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) knockouts as the world's richest mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion debuted in mainland China.
The UFC's "Shanghai Fight Night" comes as top promotions set their sights on China, where MMA's rapid growth and the country's ancient martial arts traditions are fuelling predictions it could become the sport's next frontier.
Middleweight Kelvin Gastelum of the United States scored a first-round knockout of British veteran and former champion Michael Bisping in the main event of the 12-bout card, which featured no title fights.
MMA media has derided the Shanghai card as one of the weakest yet staged by the US-based UFC.
But that mattered little to the sell-out crowd of more than 15,000 at Shanghai's Mercedes Benz Arena, who delighted in strong performances by the six male and two female Chinese fighters.
Three first-round Chinese victories that had the crowd roaring. These included welterweight Song Kenan's knockout of American Bobby Nash 15 seconds into their fight, one of the shortest UFC bouts on record.
"We saw some China power tonight," said Li "The Leech" Jingliang, who knocked out American Zak Ottow in the first round. "I believe we will see more and better China fighters coming into the UFC."
The first "Fight Night" in China followed a Shanghai event in September by the UFC's Asia-based rival, One Championship.
Currently, no Chinese fighters are considered among the UFC's best.
But both the UFC and One expect to see China become one of the top MMA markets as gyms and local and provincial-level competitions proliferate.
Both promotions are currently recruiting fighters from China's potentially deep talent pool, hoping for a breakthrough athlete like UFC lightweight champion Conor McGregor of Ireland.
McGregor became a crossover star this year with his megabucks boxing match against undefeated welterweight champion Floyd Mayweather, which he lost.
The Shanghai card suffered an embarrassment when Brazilian MMA legend Anderson Silva was scrubbed from the main event due to a positive drug test and replaced by Bisping.
One Championship has already held events in China and has plans to ramp that up to four next year and more down the road.
UFC Asia-Pacific vice president Kevin Chang said the Chinese performances showed "how far the level of talent has come" in China, and that future China events were "definitely on the cards", though he said no firm plans were yet in place.