Legend FC has signed many well-known Japanese fighters and also ones known only to hardcore fans. When I found out that they had signed Taiyo Nakahara and Hideto Tatsumi, I was surprised by the choices. Nakahara showed a lot of improvement in the SRC bantamweight tournament, but he was not a tournament favorite. He won a dubious decision over Shintaro Ishiwatari, who is the current Pancrase champ. He also had DQ win over Akitoshi Tamura. Mr. Haskamp watched Nakahara’s actual fights as an evaluation rather than simply looking at his record only.
Moreover, I was even more surprised by Hideto Tatsumi's signing because he is still very early in his career. However, even despite that, I see a lot of potential in his performances. He lost at Legend FC 7, but considering his short career, I still like this signing. These only happen when matchmakers devote the time needed to perform in-depth research. I am impressed by that.
Here is his interview. I feel that it is one of his best and hopefully sets a higher standard for MMA journalism and promotions. Take note of his clear and logical thoughts about Chinese MMA's future.
Legend FC events have thus far been held in Hong Kong and Macau, but to look at the area's future, we can't ignore the potential of mainland China as a market for MMA. What do you think about the long-term potential of the mainland for MMA?
Mainland China is a huge potential market for MMA, and there are many tournaments already being held up there which don’t catch much international attention because they don’t publish any of their marketing, PR, or results in English. Last year, martial arts were the fifth most broadcast category of sports on TV, measured by total hours of programming. There is already a lot of interest in MMA, and I think we’re going to continue to see that grow, especially as more Chinese fighters go overseas to compete against high-level international opponents.
In terms of our overall audience, China is already Legend’s biggest market. We have the largest broadcast footprint in China of any MMA organization. And of course, holding an event up there is part of our plans. We’ve been speaking with various potential partners for almost a year now, and once we’ve established the right partnerships up there, we’ll be moving forward with our first Mainland Chinese event.
Recently, mainland China included MMA bouts at events like Hero Legend at Changsha, which drew an audience of over 10,000 people. These events fare well economically, but it appears that foreign fighters are only brought in for the Chinese fighters to beat. What is your plan for competing or cooperating with them?
Unfortunately, you are right that historically many Mainland Chinese promotions have looked at foreign fighters as only a way for Chinese fighters to demonstrate their own skills and superiority. However, as the sport has grown, the audience has also become more sophisticated, and they are becoming more aware of mismatches and one-sided fights. Chinese MMA fans want to see their local heroes fighting against the best international opposition, and we think that’s one of the main reasons why Legend’s Chinese audience is growing so quickly – because we make exciting, competitive matches that put Chinese fighters against some of the best opponents in the region. That approach won’t change, and I think will be one of the keys to our continued success in China.
In areas like Hong Kong, Macau, and Singapore, I feel that people tend to care more about business than sports, and even when people have a choice of sports, activities like running, tennis or golf attract more attention than fight sports. How do you plan to go about changing those people's minds?
I can’t comment on Singapore, but in Hong Kong and Macau, fight sports have traditionally been thought of as “dirty” because of certain past associations between gyms, promotions, and organized crime. And as a consequence, combat sports have been considered a low-class and unskilled activity. That view is quickly changing though, and I think that’s being driven by two things in particular: 1) more people are training in a variety of combat sports – from Muay Thai to Boxing to BJJ – as a way to stay fit and shake off the stresses of daily corporate life, and this is giving people a greater appreciation for just how complex MMA is, and how skilled the fighters are; and 2) Legend has developed a track record and reputation for holding high-quality events featuring some of the best fighters in the Asia-Pacific, which reinforces the idea that MMA is an elite-level sport.
Chinese have history and tradition in martial arts like Kung Fu. However, I do not think that Kung Fu matches up well against other current martial arts. Do you feel that Chinese traditional martial artists will struggle initially in MMA like karate fighters did, and do you think that a Kung Fu fighter could one day become a champion like Lyoto Machida did with his karate?
I think it’s important to make a distinction between traditional forms of Kung Fu, and competitive forms like Sanda. I agree with you that traditional forms of Kung Fu are not particularly well-suited to MMA. However, as a freestyle form intended for competition, Sanda actually lends itself very well to MMA, particularly considering that it even incorporates some throws and takedowns. When Pat Healy and Brad Hannah from Team Quest traveled to Xian to run a six-week training camp, they commented on how effective Sanda striking was for MMA, and they even incorporated some of the Sanda techniques into their own MMA training.
That said, like all single styles, Sanda is not a complete system for MMA, and fighters coming from a Sanda base (which is most Chinese fighters) need to work on their wrestling and submissions to round out their skills. But having watched the evolution of Chinese fighters over the two years since the first Legend show, I would say that they have shown the greatest overall improvement in skills.
In matchmaking for Legend FC, you have featured Japanese talent ranging from famous fighters like Taiyo Nakahara and K-taro Nakamura to prospects like Hideto Tatsumi and Yuki Niimura. I watch a lot of the Kanto region's local MMA, but you really seem to have a passion for finding the top talent for your organization. How do you find this talent?
For all of us at Legend, this is not just a job for us – it is a passion. We love everything about MMA. We love the sport. We love the athletes. We love the fans. And so keeping an eye out for talent is one of the things I enjoy the most about my job. In Japan, I keep track of about 40 different fighters. Some of them are, as you said, famous fighters. Others are relatively unknown but have a lot of potential. Take Yusuke Kawanago for example – I was turned on to him by an American MMA fan living in Japan who sent me an e-mail simply saying, “You really need to have a look at this guy.” And this is basically the same approach I take for every country in Asia – it just happens that Japan has one of the richest pools of talent in the region.
But we are selective about how we sign fighters. Even though we only require exclusive contracts for our titleholders, my belief is that every fighter signed to Legend should be able to fight at least three to four times per year for us because I consider it our responsibility to keep them busy. And as we increase the number of shows we do (we will have four the first half of 2012), we will sign additional fighters. But right now, our approach has been to keep our roster small but busy.
At Legend FC 7, Taiyo Nakahara was DQed for punching the back of the head. While I definitely think that Nakahara should know basic MMA terminology in English, I also feel that the referee should have separated the fighters and warned him before calling off the fight. What do you think about the finish of that fight and the overall officiating in Legend FC?
I agree with you about the Nakahara fight: in my opinion, the referee should have separated the fighters and given Nakahara a yellow card, but it shouldn’t have been an immediate disqualification. And after the show was over, I shared my opinion with the referee. However, as I tell the fighters repeatedly at the rules meeting two days before the fights, I do not interfere with the officiating process. While we do select the referees and judges, it is critical to the integrity of Legend that my colleagues and I have absolutely no influence on the officiating process. I might disagree with a referee’s call or a judge’s scoring (and I certainly have in some of our past fights), but as long as what they do is within the rules, I will not interfere. Referees and judges need to have 100% of my support in order to exercise their authority. And fighters need to have confidence that the promoters will never interfere with the officiating of a fight.
That’s not to say that I’ve always been happy with the way things have happened. For example, in Yusuke Kawanago’s fight against Mark Striegl at Legend 5, my opinion was that Kawanago won that fight. And as I mentioned, I thought Nakahara should have received a yellow card, not a disqualification. But referees and judges are human beings, and they see things subjectively. And as we also tell the fighters in the rules meeting, if they really want to guarantee themselves the win, they need to finish the fight instead of leaving it to the judges.
Lastly, please tell me about your upcoming Legend FC 8 card and your plans for the future of Legend FC.
I think this is one of our best cards yet. Jadamba vs. Nam will be an awesome fight. Both of them are outstanding strikers, but Jadamba is the more technical and disciplined fighter, whereas Nam is more of a brawler. Regardless of the outcome, both of these guys are great to watch. And the co-main event featuring Ji vs. Kawanago will be an interesting battle: Ji has submitted all of his previous opponents, but Kawanago has great takedown and submission defense, and lethal counter-striking. I’m guessing that fight won’t go to the judges. We’ve also got some great new Japanese talent debuting on the card: former Sengoku welterweight champion K-Taro, Shooto rookie champion Kasuya, and DEEP light heavyweight title contender Niimura. Overall, I think this is a great card – certainly one of our best yet. Almost every single one of the undercard fights could just as easily have been on the main card. And fans can watch the entire undercard live and free on our YouTube channel.
As far as future plans go, we’re focused on doing more shows in more cities, and expanding our broadcast coverage even further. We’ll be back in Macau on June 16, and then it looks like our rescheduled Jakarta show will be three weeks later, on July 6 or 7. My wife Lin (who is also a colleague at Legend) will be giving birth to our baby daughter around June 25, so I’ve definitely got a very busy summer ahead of me! We’ll probably take a break during the Olympics in August, and then we’ll be back with a strong calendar for the second half of the year. All in all, it’s an exciting time for MMA in Asia, and all of us at Legend are just happy to be a part of it.
Michael Haskamp Official Twitter
Legend FC Official Web
Big thanks to Robert Sargent (MMA Rising) for English editing.