By E. Spencer Kyte | Posted 1 year ago

Saturday’s UFC fight card is one that hasn’t garnered a great deal of interest within the MMA community.


Originally scheduled to take place in Seoul, South Korea, the show was moved to the UFC APEX when veteran featherweight contender Chan Sung Jung — better known as “The Korean Zombie” — announced he’d suffered an injury that would preclude him from competing in his home country.


Despite the change in location, the lineup remains flush with competitors from across the Pacific Rim and includes the finals of the four Road to UFC tournaments that took place ahead of the UFC 275 and UFC 280 Pay-Per-View events last year.


For most fans, observers, and critics, this weekend’s fight card is one that is quickly mocked and and easily skimmed or skipped entirely. And granted, there aren’t any real high stakes fights on the slate, and the two heavyweight bouts are the only contests featuring ranked competitors, but there is a cool bigger picture element to this event if you’re willing to look beyond the names you don’t know and a predisposition towards dismissal.


Saturday’s 12-fight lineup features competitors from 14 different nations.


There are four Japanese competitors age 27 or younger stepping into the Octagon this weekend, each with the potential to be long-term additions to the UFC roster, with one — flyweight Tatsuro Taira — standing as one of the top prospects in the organization.


South Korea is still extremely well-represented despite the injury to the country’s preeminent MMA fighter, with Da-un Jung taking on Devin Clark in the co-main event, featherweight action fighter Dooho Choi making his return, and flyweights Seung Guk Choi and Hyun Sung Park set to face off in the Road to UFC flyweight finale, amongst others.


There are also three American competitors — headliner Derrick Lewis, co-main event light heavyweight Devin Clark, and Pacific Northwest representative Adam Fugitt— plus on fighter each from Moldova, Poland, Bulgaria, Indonesia, India, Germany, Russia, and Mexico.


While most UFC events feature a collection of athletes from various nations, where some of these competitors are from and the opportunity in front of them really makes the diversity of this group stand out and the importance of representation shine through in a much different way.


The final preliminary card fight on Saturday is the lightweight finals of the Road to UFC tournament, and features two athletes from countries that have very limited histories inside the Octagon.


Jeka Saragih is a 28-year-old showman from Indonesia, whose flamboyance before and after each contest is only trumped by the efforts he’s turned in to reach this point in the competition. In the opening round against Pawan Maan, he ended the fight with a spinning backfist knockout, and four months later against Won Bin Ki, Saragih connected with a straight right in the first round and propelled him to the finals.


His opponent, Anshul Jubli, is an undefeated 28-year-old from India. He earned a bye in the opening round of the tournament when his opponent failed to make weight, and then won a split decision in the semifinals to advance to face Saragih on Saturday.


There are currently no fighters from either Indonesia or India on the UFC roster, and there has only been one competitor from the two nations that has competed inside the UFC cage in the passed — India’s Bharat Khandare, who was submitted in the first round of his one and only appearance inside the Octagon.


Having one or both of them join the UFC roster would send a jolt through the MMA community in their respective countries, just as seeing the emerging generation of talent from the nations like South Korea and Japan would continue to spur on the next wave of talent from those countries as well.


These things matter, and while it’s easy to dismiss a card like this on its face, there are times when you have to step back and consider these things.


As much as the UFC is an American promotion primarily catering to an American audience, its a global brand and organization, and people watching in countries that are not routinely represented on this stage are sure to have a different reaction, different connection to those competitors than American fans, given that nearly half of the roster consists of American fighters.


We’ve seen it when international champions bring their titles home.


They’re given a hero’s welcome by throngs of people, all of whom can now point to that athlete and say, “There is our champion! They made it from this place to the top of the sport!” That may not resonate with American audiences as much, as things tend to be more regional than national, and maybe winnowed down even more than that to being a state-specific or even city-specific thing, but to the Indonesian audience tuning in to watch Saragih or the Indian audience eagerly rooting for Jubli this weekend, seeing them fight in the same cage as the legends of this sport can and will resonate in those regions.


But the impact of representation extends beyond just the athletes this weekend as well.


Saturday night, Laura Sanko will make her long-awaited debut on color commentary, graduating to calling her first live UFC Fight Night event, as we discussed here last summer. In doing so, the former fighter to broadcaster becomes the first woman in the modern UFC era and the second female ever to call a UFC event, joining Kathy Long, who was part of the broadcast team for the initial UFC event on November 12, 1993 in Denver, Colorado.


Sanko has been working towards this for a number of years, and took a step in the right direction when she got the opportunity to call the action on Dana White’s Contender Series the past two seasons and absolutely crushed it. And now this weekend, for the first time in almost 30 years, a female voice will be heard discussing the Xs and Os of what is happening inside the Octagon.


These things matter in ways that may not be quantifiable or resonant in the here and now, but will surely be felt somewhere down the line.


The exposure of these athletes from under-represented countries on the biggest stage in the sport will create a surge in interest in MMA in those places, the same way the expansion of the NBA to Canada gave rise to the greatest era of Canadian basketball players in history.


Hearing Sanko break down the action in the cage, speak eloquently about technique, and shine alongside her male counterparts this weekend is going to make some female with broadcasting ambitions know that calling UFC events is an achievable goal, and not just a dream that is unlikely to come true.


These things matter and we have to not only understand that, but speak to it more often, and celebrate these things when they happen.


Saturday night is a huge moment for fans in a number of nations that have had limited or no history inside the UFC cage, and who have been waiting to see these athletes compete on the biggest stage in the sport.


It’s also a massive moment for a hardworking broadcaster and the legions of people she’s going to inspire and speak to this weekend.


Instead of dismissing this card and brushing those things off, let’s give Sanko, these athletes, and the millions of people they collectively represent their chance to shine.


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