In preparation for UFC on Fuel TV 6, the promotion’s first live event in greater China, the company has heavily promoted Chinese fighter Zhang Tiequan to drum up interest among the locals. For instance, along with main eventers Rich Franklin and Cung Le, Tiequan appeared at the initial press conference in Macau to promote the event.
Tiequan’s presence in all of the promotion, not to mention the main card of the event, makes it clear that the UFC is trying to carve out a place in China’s mainstream sporting world on the back of one of the country’s own. The thought process appears to be that people in foreign countries being introduced to the UFC will be more likely to become fans if they get the chance to get behind a fellow countryman in the cage. This tactic doesn’t come as a surprise, as it is consistent with what the UFC has done in the UK and Brazil, where it often fills the fight cards with a wide assortment of fighters from the host countries.
The issue with this strategy, however, is that the local fighters actually have to be decent and, preferably, win. Thus far, Tiequan has not done so, losing three of his last four fights in the WEC and UFC. His only win since moving to the UFC in early 2011 came at the expense of journeyman Jason Reinhardt, who has been finished in short order in all three of his UFC appearances. Tiequan, a submission specialist who looks out of place on his feet, has seemed overmatched in his two most recent octagon appearances, losing to Darren Elkins by unanimous decision and Issei Tamura by brutal knockout.
Although, due to the UFC’s desired expansion into China, Tiequan has more leeway than the average newcomer, there will come a point in time when he has to win if the UFC is going to get any mileage out of promoting him. While everyone loves cheering for local guy in a fight, it is exponentially less fun and interesting to cheer for local guy who sucks and can’t win.
That is why this Saturday’s otherwise unimportant fight at UFC on Fuel TV 6 between Tiequan and unknown Jon Tuck takes on added significance. Although UFC President Dana White never (and could not legitimately) publicly endorse a fighter in the promotion, it stands to reason that the company is rooting for Tiequan to get by Tuck in front of his home country. The match-up itself seems to suggest as much: Tuck is making his UFC debut, has fought just twice since November 2009, and has neither defeated anyone of note nor fought in a major promotion in compiling his 6-0 record.
It’s easy to conclude that the UFC has made this match as a showcase for Tiequan to pick up an impressive win in front of his home crowd. The only problem? Tiequan actually has to follow through, because a defeat to Tuck would derail the already-slow hype train and tarnish the UFC’s hopes of riding Tiequan from a UFC on Fuel TV win into the Chinese mainstream.