Examining the UFC’s asian advertisement

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UFC president Dana White has said time and time again that Asia is a huge target for his company, and frankly, why shouldn’t it be? Asia is considered by many to be the birthplace of martial arts, and ethically correct or not, shares a connection with the sport in most people’s minds. So when the world’s leading mixed martial arts (MMA) promotion announced they’re long awaited return to Japan would take place on February of 2012, with more events to follow in other Asian territories, reaction was mainly positive. Back in the present, the UFC has held two events in Asia, UFC 144 in Saitama, Japan and UFC Macao in Macao, China and with these events have come plenty of advertisements that seem to push various Asian stereotypes. In this blog, I’ll explore a couple of examples and try to break them down.

As UFC 144 neared, the UFC released a commercial to be aired only in Asian airwaves, though made open to the public here stateside. The commercial follows the setting of classic monster movies, mainly popular Japanese figure Godzilla, with various residents enjoying a nice and normal day outside. As a strange and large shadow begins to loom, the citizens of Japan take notice and begin to look up to the sky and the shadow is revealed to be the promotion’s famous octagon symbol. When UFC Macao was announced, the promotion released it’s official event poster, which also seemed to to take advantage of Chinese stereotypes and ideals. It came complete with dragons on the corner of the poster, and a glowing god-like picture of Bruce Lee in the middle of it all with the quote “Bruce Lee is the father of mixed martial arts”. Keep in mind Mr. Lee’s only connection to the company is that he was a martial artist (pretty good one too) and died almost 20 years before MMA’s official creation. Even if various fighters list him as a inspiration (welterweight Dan Hardy documented his trip to Lee’s grave in order to pay his respects), many felt the UFC was simply cashing in on his popularity in China to help sell the event

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The most controversial piece of advertisement was actually a fan made trailer (pictured at the top of the article) which portrayed some of UFC 144’s more famous fighters as anime characters. Featuring fighters with big eyes and surrounding auras like in popular animes (and even featuring south park’s “let’s fighting love” anime song), the trailer would have been nothing more that fan made humor if not for UFC president Dana White tweeting it out to his followers along with the quote “This is pretty cool. Tweet me back and let me know what it says”. While most company presidents or league commissioners would stay away from something that paints their business using these stereotypes, White pushed it out and the trailer became widely popular among MMA’s fan base. So much so in fact, that then Lightweight Champion and the night’s main eventer Frankie Edgar performed his “character’s” dance from the trailer during pre-fight interviews (interesting side note, Edgar shows an event flyer also featuring him as an anime character during the interview).

While it might seem fair to bash the UFC for seemingly promoting these stereotypes, It’s clear that the promotion was never trying to do so in a negative manner. After all it wouldn’t make sense for them alienate potential viewers. They are not in any way the first to parody a monster’s arrival, and dragons have long been considered a historical symbol of China. Even Bruce Lee’s daughter Shannon gave the promotion permission to use her father’s image and considered it an “honor”.  Finally, the anime trailer, even if promoted by Mr. White and the media, was still fan made. While some may be offended by these examples, many others including myself (though as a non Asian, it’s hard for me to connect), see it as light humor or a small tribute to the country and their connection to martial arts.

Fan made trailer: http://youtu.be/WsJihB3Qyl0

Edgar interview: http://youtu.be/Ur2FR2rIYlM

Shannon Lee interview: http://www.mmafighting.com/2012/11/7/3614856/shannon-lee-thrilled-father-bruce-lees-legacy-continues-to-be-honored

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19 thoughts on “Examining the UFC’s asian advertisement

  1. Good description of the UFC ad campaign. Are there APA MMA in the U.S.? You point out some of the recurring imagery/representations that are reflected in the ads. How do they relate to some of the broader concepts discussed in our class (e.g. orientalism)?

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