Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Art of War 12 at Beijing Olympic Sports Center Auditorium

On May 23 I attended Art of War 12, heretofore the glitziest event AOW promoters have ever organized. Part of the reason -- I'm guessing a big part -- was because this one was sponsored by an UAE prince (elaboration below).

Here's a video I edited that I finally got around to uploading to YouTube:

Very kind folks at the Beijinger supplied me with two free VIP tickets, and in exchange I gave them this blog post. The original version of the entry (the messier, sorta unedited version) appears after the pictures. (I'm guessing tbj won't mind me reposting this, as it is two months after the fact.)

Big John McCarthy

Yes, that's Michael Buffer.

Main event winner Wu Haotian was not smiling after Art of War 13.

The Art of War 12 Fighting Championship happened Saturday at the Olympic Sports Center Gym, and it was about what you’d expect out of a mixed martial arts event billed as "setting the standard for the future of China's mixed martial arts industry”: loud, gaudy, over-the-top, packed with personality. Michael Buffer was there to say, “Let’s get ready to rumble.” Big John McCarthy, ref of Ultimate Fighting Championship fame, did his signature “Let’s get it on!” Even His Highness himself – by the way, this is the opening sentence in the press release: “Under the Patronage of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, the United Arab Emirates the Art of War Fighting Championship 12, 'Invincible' proudly returns to Beijing...” – was in attendance, presenting the main event winner an oversized piece of cardboard that was supposed to be a check, or something.

We should also mention – you know, for posterity's sake and all – it was lurid and violent. I wondered aloud how many times the ring girls, in their tiny tight black shorts and showing all their midriff, practiced their pre-round prance – you’ve seen it before, ladies holding ROUND 1 placards above their heads while sashaying around the squared circle – because from where I was sitting the consistency and conviction of their steps was to be commended.

Did we mention violent? Oh, there was violence. The fight between Fransino Tirta of Indonesia and Malik Arash Mawlayi of Sweden was stopped because Mawlayi’s corner couldn’t close a cut above the Swede’s right eye. A Japanese fighter got his head stomped on, then popped up for more abuse (this was best fight of the night, by the way, between Japan’s Atsuhiro Tsuboi and China’s Dai Shuanghai; it ended in a technical draw after two 10-minute rounds, and the audience applauded). Rolles Gracie, with his family ringside (the famous Gracie family, which dominated MMA with its Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu), won via submission barely five minutes in with a rear naked choke.

The event began slow – China's Yao Qiang won the night's first match via submission to mild applause; he tried his best to be charismatic for a crowd that didn't want to be charmed – and dragged a bit long – nearly four hours to complete the 12-match card. But in between there were enough moments to redeem the event – enough punches to the head, slams to the ground. It was pretty obvious the spectators weren’t there for an intellectual discussion on the morality of violence.

Of course, how good a time you had depends on whether you dropped 500 RMB for a VIP ticket to basically sit in a glorified movie theater. Every time the fighters hit the mat – and it was often – just about the only way you could see the action was to watch the big-screens. And if the connection happened to fail – which it did more often than it should have – you were out of luck. God forbid you stand up, because you’d get a tap from a stern-looking usher dressed head-to-toe in black – from cap to boots – telling you to sit down.

So, it’s here that we would like to say, emphatically, to event organizers: MMA is a sporting event, not an Ennio Morricone concert. You can let fans stand!

In the end, the crowd went home happy. China’s Wu Haotian beat Japan’s Yutaka Kobayashi in the main event by getting him on the ground and pounding the pulp out of his head. It was the night’s shortest match. If this was pro wrestling, we’d say the baby faces won (Gracie, four of the six Chinese fighters) and the heels suffered humiliation and agony (more than once were there catcalls of "Kill that Devil!" when a Japanese fighter was in the ring). Of course, if this were wrestling, fans would have stood during the matches and drank beer (they ran out real early – probably a good thing, actually). As fine an effort as this was, when it comes to entertainment, His Highness the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi is no Vince McMahon.

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