Headliners Rich Franklin and Cung Le are featured prominently in the UFC on FUEL TV 6 campaign, as are Korean fighter Dong Hyun Kim and Chinese competitor Tiequan Zhang.
But listed above them all, right at the top of the poster and event program and various billboards around town is a man who passed away 20 years before the UFC made its debut: Bruce Lee. UFC exec Reed Harris said Lee's placement on the material makes perfect sense.
"When I was in high school in Illinois, we heard about this movie called 'Enter the Dragon,' and we went and saw it at the Glen Art Theatre in Glen Ellyn, just outside of Chicago," Harris told MMAjunkie.com (www.mmajunkie.com). "Literally, it changed my whole life. I was playing football, and a couple of days later, I sought out the only martial arts studio in the whole area, and I started training tae kwon do."
Lee, of course was the star of "Enter the Dragon." The film was released in 1973, the same year as Lee's untimely passing. Still, he left behind a body of work that led many people around the world, including Harris, to seek out training in traditional martial arts.
"I would watch all of his movies over and over to see his techniques," Harris said. "It completely changed the direction of my life. I became a lot more disciplined, and I would train all the time and work on doing the techniques properly."
Lee, of course, wasn't simply a cinematic fighter. He was also a lifelong martial arts practitioner who developed his own martial arts system, Jeet Kune Do. The philosophy was often characterized as "style without style" or "the art of fighting without fighting," and the teachings of the art are the inspiration behind the title of the 2011 Anderson Silva documentary "Like Water." Essentially, Lee embraced the hybridization of fighting arts rather than the singular nature of fighting disciplines that was typical up to that point.
It's a philosophy that has led UFC President Dana White to refer to Lee as the "father of mixed martial arts," the quote that appears on the UFC on FUEL TV 6 promotional materials just above Lee's image.
"He was Hong Kong's native son, and he really was the father of MMA," Harris said of Lee, who was born in San Francisco after his parents moved from Hong Kong. "During his movie career, and even since he's passed away, Bruce Lee had a big impact in Hong Kong, so when we came to Macau, we thought it would be great to be able to honor him.
"Again, he was the founder of entire sport. He was cross-training in all these different disciplines. Up until not that long ago, people like me would do one discipline all their life because it was almost disrespectful to your art and your teacher to study another martial art. But that's kind of all gone away now."
Despite Lee's teachings, MMA is still relatively unknown in China. UFC officials are currently working hard to educate the Chinese public on the finer points, especially in terms of the wrestling and jiu-jitsu skills necessary to succeed in modern-day MMA. It's a long-term project, but Harris believes there could be a very substantial light at the end of the tunnel.
"In some markets we go to, people say it's violent and don't really see it as a sport," Harris said. "Here though, they seem to see the sport part. I just think they haven't really been exposed to it enough to embrace our stars. Once they see these guys and watch them fight and watch them perform and embrace guys like Tieqaun Zhang, then I think it's going to blow up here, just like it has everywhere else."
With a population of 1.3 billion people, China's potential upside as a market for the promotion is readily apparent. And while Saturday's event isn't taking place on mainland soil, UFC on FUEL TV 6 does serve as the starting line for the promotion's efforts in the region. Although some have predicted success will be an uphill battle, Harris believes their is real potential in the country – and that Lee would be proud of what MMA has done for the evolution of the fighting arts.
"Look at Brazil," Harris said. "Three of four years ago, I had people in Brazil telling me to be careful because while jiu-jitsu was accepted and popular there, MMA was not. Now look what's happened. I think the same thing is going to happen in China. Once they understand that the traditional martial arts are part of our sport and that it's really about taking those arts and expanding the knowledge base, they'll see it's really what Bruce Lee wanted.
"Bruce Lee created his own art, Jeet Kune Do, because he didn't like the limitations of these singular martial arts in their own little silo. He wanted to combine them all and improve those techniques, which is exactly what our fighters do."
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