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Friday, Jun 10, 2011

Video: DARE Bringing MMA To Thailand – Part 1

Jussi Saloranta of Dare Fight Sports talks the promotion’s premiere MMA event in Thailand.

DARE Championships: Indefinables and Intangibles

BANGKOK, Thailand
June 1, 2011

Something is brewing here in Bangkok. It’s not coming from the Singha or Chang beer breweries, and it’s different from the slowly building political tension due to the upcoming July 3rd elections.

When we speak of people having presence we often speak in fragments and acknowledge that our description is lacking. “They have it,” we’ll say. “I don’t know how else to describe it.” Since the beginning of time, we’ve created ideas in an attempt to understand everything – who we are, how we got here, what our purpose is. It’s all an innocent attempt to find meaning and to share what it is that we mean. We’ve come up with all sorts of reasons for what “it” actually is: personality, style, movements, eyes, stature, etc. But this too is all an attempt, worthwhile for sure, to define the indefinable. Trying to define presence is like making a papier-mâché globe without a mold.

As I sat across from Jussi Saloranta, Head of Fighter & Public Relations for DARE Championships, at the V8 Diner, the only 1950s-style American diner here in Bangkok, I felt, on several levels, that I was in the presence of it. Some abstract positive energy. The V8 Diner is connected to Club Insomnia, where the MMA event will take place on June 25. Elvis and Muddy Waters came from the jukebox. From the window where we sat we could see the other stores in the plaza: The Pizza Company, DHL, French To Go Café, and Sunrise Tacos Mexican Grill. Juxtapositions abound. We could see the street vendor on the sidewalk; the guy can carry his entire restaurant on the back of his rusted bicycle. Above him the BTS Skytrain powers on,
gliding across its tracks while it carries hundreds of people. Here I am in Bangkok, Thailand, discussing not the country’s national sport, but MMA. There have been several reasons why this yearlong trip to Thailand from America was meant to be. Sitting here with Jussi – at the cusp of DARE Championships, his career, and
Thailand’s MMA boom – is certainly one of them.

More Generally: Thailand has the potential to be the Asian equivalent of MMA in America. Cue the “The fastest growing sport” cliché. And, if it does happen, it’ll propel MMA into a truly global sport.

Of course, there are some fundamental differences between America and Thailand.

However, as America had wrestling and boxing establishments – and the anchors holding them in place (businesses, respect, and tradition) – so Thailand has with Muay Thai. It’s their national sport. As America has a variety of enticing environmental features – the bustle of NYC, the deserts of Arizona, the Carolina
and California beaches and the Appalachian mountains, so does Thailand – over ten million people in megalopolis Bangkok, the endlessly televised and photographed beaches (Phuket and Koh Samui to name a few) and the dense vegetation of the mountains surrounding Chiang Mai.

The population is a growing 68 million and, like North America, the youth here are equally technologically savvy/obsessed. I’ve even encountered an elderly Buddhist monk, in his traditional orange robe, answer his cell phone by pulling it out from one of the robe’s pockets. Black Eyed Peas ringtone.

The workers here are renowned for their work ethic (world-class hotels seem to go up in one month by workers who work round-the-clock) but also for their insistence on work being sanook, the Thai word for fun. Many will turn down a job that pays better if it means they’d be miserable. With their roots so deep in the combative arts, I could see major MMA venues going up quickly while the workers have sanook
mak mak.

A Side Note about Media and Stigma: Of course, the extremes make news, especially the negative extremes, especially negative extremes about foreign places. While Thailand’s food and resorts will be featured on the Travel Channel, the sex slavery and sometimes-violent political unrest (events taking place everywhere in the
world) will make the headlines that will portray Thailand’s reputation not as the 97% positive but as the 3% negative. This is nothing new, nor a complaint, just a piece of the pasting. With each day, the world continues to globalize, become more multicultural and internationally and technologically connected. This means clearer, more accurate pictures are arising about each city and country. People are more
hesitant when they hear snap judgments about places and more likely to get on a plane to see and live a place for themselves. Still, my attempt continues to piece the brewing together.

More Specifically: Jussi Saloranta has “it.” He’s young, well-educated and business savvy. He’s been around the martial arts his entire life, is passionate about the sport and its success in this country and he’s a natural behind the camera. Rather than drop the “He’s the Dana White of Thailand,” let me address their key similarities and differences. Like Dana, he’s got the tenacity and energy of youth. Like Dana, Jussi is in the right place, with the right team, at the right time and he’s willing to take risks. However, what Dana was involved in, even just the sheer scale of it, was entirely new. He was involved at the beginning of the tremendous growth of an organization that has since become synonymous with an entire sport’s name. How many living people in the world can make such a claim? While Jussi isn’t growing a new idea to quite the same magnitude, he’s bringing the idea to a new environment and he’s blessed with and takes advantage of the hindsight that will prevent him from suffering some of the same setbacks as the UFC did in its infancy, or that past professional MMA organizations have faced here in Thailand. Whereas Dana could be notoriously competitive, Jussi, rather than having his sights set on crushing rivals or being the UFC’s competitor, is instead open and willing to collaborate. Essentially, it’s as though Dana has paved the way for Jussi and now Jussi is paving the way for Dana. Of course, DARE Championship’s first show is still three weeks away. As the William Carlos Williams poem: So much depends/upon….

Thailand’s Intangible: Tourists keep coming, even as the conflicts between the red shirts and the yellow shirts continue to garner international attention. The genuine good-natured spirit of the Thai people, the relative safety, the “exotic” definition that Thailand carries and the low standard of living (one US dollar equals thirty Thai baht. This is enough for a full plate of Pad Thai with all the fixins) can all mean some
good things for the country, and as it relates to MMA blossoming here.

Jussi’s Intangible through quotes:

“Many other MMA startups here in Thailand came out with competition at the forefront – against Muay Thai and other MMA promotions. I’m coming at this carefully. It’s been in my mind for nearly five years. I’ve thought of the ins and outs of nearly everything and I sensed that now was the right time to make the push.
Rather than competition, I want collaboration. Ultimately, we want to get DARE rolling and the UFC to see potential.”

“The other day I saw a new sports car pull up to a red light. A Thai parent with two Thai kids in the backseat. The kids were wearing their taekwondo uniforms and I thought to myself, Years ago, no way this would have happened. Muay Thai was the end all, be all. Today, Thailand has academies for every martial art. In some
circles, Muay Thai is beginning to become the poor man’s sport similar to what boxing is becoming in America. More Thai kids are having more diverse martial arts experiences – from Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu to Muay Thai to wrestling. All of it. The youth here wear UFC shirts, they’re beginning to love it and that is only going to grow.”

Grow it will. For those of us who have been in this MMA game for awhile, it’s amazing to think that the new generation of Thai MMA fighters will learn of Randy Couture by watching him on reruns not during live fights.

Sometimes informed fragments are better than nothing at all. Sometimes they’re better than everything. I’m convinced that the UFC will someday come to Thailand. And when it does, the work of DARE Championships and Jussi Saloranta will serve as the mold.

Cameron Conaway is a former MMA fighter turned award-winning poet and writer.

posted by Mike Ran @ 4:55 am
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