ROAD FC blasted into Busan at the brand new Bexco Auditorium last November 24, 2012. The aggressive promotion started out in a mall, moved to a ballroom, transcended to the biggest sports arena in its hometown, took on Seoul’s iconic Jangchung arena, and most recently traveled as far away from its base as it within Korean borders as was possible by launching an event in the southern port city of Busan. Now there are hints from the promotion that an even more thorough lineup of events for 2013 is pending – between 6-8 main shows, plus trials and tryouts.
PAVING THE ROAD
The forward-thinking promotion doesn’t pull punches when it comes to expansions. With only ten events under its belt, ROAD FC already has a Central League and an Into League both based on finding regional athletes and giving them a chance at local amateur competition in order to develop MMA’s base in Korea. These athletes compete for the opportunity to make it onto a Young Guns undercard. ROAD FC also has a working relationship with ONE FC for athlete exchange and continually allows its talent to compete outside its borders. Slowly but surely, it is allowing more international fighters to sign up within its ranks and pulling in top talent from abroad to appease its intelligent fanbase – like Shungo Oyama, Takasuke Kume, Andrew Leone and Vuysile Colossa all in tournaments for titles, then headliners Melvin Manheof on 009 and Jeff Monson on 010, and of course Denis Kang and Bob Sapp.
ROAD FC has a domestic broadcast on XTM television, airing slightly delayed or immediately after the main event, which has started to make it a household name across the entire country. When Koreans fight in the UFC, the fervor is tangible, and ROAD FC is building upon that. For example, Ben Henderson – of half-Korean heritage – was constantly advertised on television prior to his latest UFC title defence. ROAD FC recently took on internet streaming Video On Demand services via the largest MMA portal on the planet, Sherdog.com, to get the promotion’s viewership beyond South Korea, and has plans to aggressively pursue international broadcast in 2013.
A CLEAR VIEW AHEAD
That’s not where the freight train stops. ROAD FC CEO Jung MoonHong believes that in order to grow the sport’s popularity with the South Korean population, it must have entertainment value beyond pure sport, and must capitalize upon the regional market demand for high-level production and star-studded events. The ROAD FC live show features thumping sound, exciting lighting, a PRIDE-style floor-to-ceiling backdrop, and huge LED viewscreens that ensure every corner of the venue can see the action. It is one of the most well-developed stage productions in all of Asia. South Korea’s pop culture is riding a wave of international consumption, and Mr Jung sees that as a direct tie-in with ROAD FC events. He has worked to build athletes into public personas through reality shows – such as “Korean Pitbull” Seo DooWon and the tearjerker Yuk JinSu – and he pulls artistic talent into supporting and attending ROAD FC events as a matter of pride.
The ROAD FC staff are slick-suited men who are or have been fighters, wear matching red ties, and are incredibly polite and friendly. The top management oversee every aspect of the fighters’ needs, from transportation, on time scheduling, translation needs, and overall well-being. The meals provided are sumptuous buffets normally found at five star hotels, which is a fantastic luxury for hungry fight camps post-weigh in. The icing on the cake has to be the promotion’s t-shirts for each event: sharp tribal, glitter and grit MMA lifestyle designs by Xavier.
SPEED BUMPS AND POTHOLES
With this all-out assault on the market, an MMA aficionado would be led to believe that Mr Jung’s ROAD FC has already conquered the country. However, as with any aggressive business model, growing pains are inevitable, and unforeseen bumps stall progress. At ROAD FC 9, a live stream on Sherdog was promised, yet a final decision by the portal nixed it for VOD instead, and the promotion decided to take the blame upon itself. Noble, yet a possible avenue for blame in the future. ROAD FC 10 was announced primarily as a stream, and later clarified as beginning at 5:00pm EST – an average slot for US viewers, yet a decision which left the Asian fanbase out of consideration, as they would have needed to get up at the crack of dawn to watch it.
ROAD FC 10 in Bexco took on a different layout than previous stadium-set events as it moved into a theatre audience setting. The perfect cage lighting and well-timed light displays were exciting and the stage-style allowed for some interesting use of entrances of the fighters in full view of the audience. However, the stage’s side panels and high cage set up awkwardly affected the visual impact. Some overdone laser effects – like a jittery ROAD FC logo shot on the backdrop above the cage and spinning light projections on the audience – were a kitschy step down in class from the Wonju events. The venue’s nix on fireworks was slightly disappointing, although smoke cannons made an adequate replacement.
Yet the largest detriment to the feel of the event was probably the actual seating arrangement, which changed the audience from active participants in sporting events that are held in in-the-round stadiums to passive observers as in any theatre performance. Busloads of fans from other cities trucked in to support their players; they still cheered, exclaimed, chastised, and laughed, yet the atmosphere was a bit more complacent than in-the-round events. ROAD FC 9 by comparison was hair-raising in its awesome production.
About 2,500 people watched the Busan event live, not capacity for the auditorium. This was even though ROAD FC heavily advertised for the event – a full-page newspaper ad was set on every VIP seat – and held it in a town home to one of the most notable teams in Asia, Team MAD, as well as being within easy reach of MMA teams in neighboring Ulsan and Daegu. When making enquiries as to the turn out, most regarded MMA as still a growing sport in Korea – an incredible response since it’s a sport that’s been featured on a prime-time drama and has its own reality show, not to mention that Koreans are some of the most educated MMA fans on the planet.
The MMA side of the ROAD FC events – of course the primary concern for the promotion – do not disappoint from the very start of the Young Guns undercard to the main event. They are not afraid to pit Koreans against more seasoned athletes, and equally unabashed to have foreign fighters in championship contention. There is a little bit of that PRIDE feel when a big name comes in against a local.
For example, on the ROAD FC 10 Young Guns undercard, the match ups were quite even, with special attention obviously paid to stylistic concerns. The striking match between Moon JaeHoon and Kim SeongJae was a thriller, with fists flying from one side of the cage to the other, and blood splattering the computer upon which this report is written. When Machado jiu jitsu camp sent out Joeng MinJu to face MMA Story’s Choi MooGyum, a grappling war ensued with the victor hailing from the opposite corner and obviously deliberately outplaying his opponent at his own game. Overall, the entire roster of ‘young guns’ on the card showed impressively well-rounded and developed skill sets. Each athlete fought with heart and it was clear that they were all going for the finish; even though their was plenty of work against the cage, no one tried to stall there.
The main card of #10 started promptly on time with an uncommon submission of an overhead kimura that sealed Park JeongHo‘s win over Kyung HwanRyu. A gangbuster ensued when Yuk JinSu came out of his corner facing a much bigger Oowaki, and in a match that resembled something more out of WWE, he eventually got the beast down and bounced his head off the canvas before the ref called it a TKO.
The first of the two semifinal matches in the lightweight tournament saw Takasuke thoroughly dismantle late stand-in Yoon Chul with textbook takedowns and transitions, with Kume opting for a great deal of ground and pound before adding insult to injury in a final RNC. The second semifinal, a rematch between Colossa and Nam YuiChul, saw the South African striker come out with an uncharacteristic and thrilling huge double leg takedown. Nam attempted submissions and was able to get it standing, then the two battled through three full rounds of incredible back and forth action, with Vuyisile calmly surviving some long-held submission attempts, and Nam weathering a barrage of bombs to his face before his own takedowns sealed the win in his favor. The Lightweight Championship will be decided between Kume and Nam in February of 2013.
In the co-main event, national wrestler Kang DongGook proved that he’s ready to take on MMA, as he took on his first opponent in supreme grappler Monson. Jeff wasn’t able to get the beastly strong Korean down, resulting in a lackluster three rounds of manhandling against the cage, wide swinging shots by Kang, and Monson’s inability to get inside with effective striking. The main event Welterweight title defense was a short thriller of a bout, with the title returning to Korean soil to new Champion Lee EunSoo who looked as if his low and wide hands would have more likely seen him on the canvas instead.
HAPPY NEW YEAR
ROAD FC has announced Sokoudjou and a slew of Brazilians to its roster, and hinted about the next two cards being almost completed. A schedule set well in advance would be a welcome development and indicate its longevity prospects. Seeing the ruleset open up (currently elbows aren’t allowed) is something to put on a Christmas list, but not something that has been mentioned. In any case, the tremendous effort that goes into the production should pay off well as ROAD FC attempts to capture a wider international market through broadcast. The catalog of fights shows clearly that Koreans are a tough group, love their MMA, and can put on some fantastic fights. Best wishes for the New Year, ROAD FC!