In 2008, this forum asked, “why so few Asian American in MMA? Four years later, Ben Henderson is the UFC lightweight champion, Mark Munoz is headlining UFC on Fuel 4, “Munoz vs Weidman,” Cung Le is on the main card of UFC 148, and Ed “the Filipino Phenom” Yagin recently beat a top contender in the featherweight division. Have Asian Americans arrived in MMA? I took at the UFC’s roster to find out, and here is what I found.
To gauge Asian American success in MMA, I took a look at the UFC’s roster as on June 30, 2012, figuring that the UFC has most of the world’s elite MMA fighters. I tried to figure out who was Asian American as opposed to Asian, and I included hapas like Ben Henderson and Charles Dodson in the numbers. In addition, I thought about Floyd Mayweather’s comment about MMA:
“And this is not a racial statement but there’s no white fighters in boxing that’s dominating, so they had to go to something else and start something new.”
While this statement is untrue (the UFC and Mixed Martial Arts have Brazilian roots), I thought that while I was looking at the roster, I might as well look at the number of African Americans too. My efforts generated the following table:
On a percentage basis, Asian Americans make up 4.2% of the total American fighters. That’s less than the Asian American 5% proportion of the U.S. population, but a lot higher percentage than the NBA (Jeremy Lin’s one divided by the total count of all of the players in the NBA). The UFC’s roster includes retired fighters like Randy Couture, Brock Lesnar and Chuck Liddell, so the actual percentages would be higher if I had excluded them. African Americans make up 7.1% of the total American fighters. That’s less than the 13.1% of the population, but definitely not the total whitewash that Mayweather claims, and the numbers should be higher if you take out those retired fighters. Also, two out of the eight current champions (including the interim welterweight champion, Carlos Condit) are African American, and with another champion, Brazilian Anderson Silva, clearly of African descent. Along with Brazilians of African descent, there are also African Canadians in the UFC.
Given those numbers, do I think that Asian Americans have arrived in MMA? With a current champion (Ben Henderson), contenders (Mark Munoz and Charles Dodson), and former champion (BJ Penn), and with the percentage of UFC American fighters close to their US population percentages, I would definitely say yes. Why is this so? I’d say that new lower weight divisions are one factor. Asian Americans can fight now at more comfortable weights – for example, Nam Phan had to fight at lightweight but now can fight at a more competitive weight of featherweight. I would also add that the UFC seems to see the value of being inclusive and marketing to ethnic communities. From having Cain Velasquez do Spanish language interviews and having Cung Le’s UFC debut in San Jose, the UFC seems to realize that there is value in inclusion.
(photo credit: UFC)