Rebel Fighting Championship aims to be a mix of UFC and WWE
MMA promotion says it will launch reality TV show called People's Champion
When it comes to mixed martial arts (MMA) in Asia, the fight for supremacy seems to be between the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and ONE Championship.
But Rebel Fighting Championship is aiming to deliver a blockbuster later this year with the launch of a reality TV show in China called the People's Champion, where fighters train and compete to excel in the octagon as well as win the hearts of the audience.
Through the competition, which will be open to Mandarin-speaking fighters in the region, including Singapore, Rebel is looking to unearth the next Asian martial arts superstar, with the People's Champion winner earning a long fight contract and a foot in China's entertainment industry.
It will be the flagship product of what Rebel chief executive officer Justin Leong, 34, has termed the "fightainment" model.
Speaking to The New Paper at Rebel's headquarters at The Plaza in Beach Road, he said: "We are looking to carve out our own identity and niche by being a mixture of WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) and UFC.
"The fights are still genuine... but we want them to have flair and elements of storytelling.
"Our model is very much fightainment. We believe fighters have to fight and entertain.
"If people want to watch the best fighters, they'd tune into UFC. So, you have to provide something different.
"Through the show, I hope that when we think of MMA in China or in the region, we are going to think of Rebel. Primarily, we want to give a platform for the gyms and fighters."
While details are still to be ironed out, Leong revealed that he was in talks with key partners in China and hopes to launch it by the end of the year.
He also shared that the show would be modelled after popular singing competition, The Voice, and that he is hopeful of roping in action movie stars like Jackie Chan and Donnie Yen as judges.
Leong pointed to the success of the white-collar amateur boxing matches between YouTube sensations KSI and Logan Paul as an example of the changing landscape of fight audiences.
Their first fight in August 2018 reportedly drew a pay-per-view audience of 1.2 million. The rematch had a better pay-per-view take up in Britain than the heavyweight bout between Anthony Joshua and Andy Ruiz Jr last June.
Said Leong: "It shows the appetite for entertainment and fights. We could even do a fight pitting a CEO against another CEO.
"We want to have fresh ideas. The other promotions are more sport-focused and we believe we want to go down a more of an entertainment route."
Leong highlighted Liu Wenbo, one of the 20 fighters in Rebel's stable, as a prime example of their approach. He acted in SWAT, which was released in China last month, and will feature in Vanguard, a Jackie Chan-led flick which will open here later this month.
Rebel's last event, held in Moscow on Jan 11, was its first in Europe. It sold out the 5,300-capacity Wings of Soviet Sports Hall, and also attracted record-breaking views of over 25 million on terrestrial TV and online platforms in China, according to Leong.
It all bodes well for Rebel's pending initial public offering on the Nasdaq, from which Leong is seeking to raise between $15-20 million.
But world domination or being globally recognised is not quite on Leong's mind just yet. The ambition now is to reign supreme in the region, starting in a country he believes will be home to the next MMA icon.
Said Leong: "The talent, the audience and the media infrastructure - China has all that. I believe the future world champion will come from China.
"The audience in China is hungry for these shows and we want to deliver. The idea is to win in China and then go global."