Oct 20, 2015
UFC Takes the World by Storm
What’s the fastest-growing sport in the world? Football, with its rapid expansion into new territories such as India, seems a logical choice. Or NFL, as it breaks into new markets by hosting fixtures abroad?
No, you’re wrong. It is MMA (mixed martial arts), organised under the franchise UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship).MMA is an action-packed mixture of boxing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, Muay Thai, wrestling and judo. It has now grown to the point that it some think it could even be recognized as an Olympic sport.
The U.S. is the primary area of growth for MMA. Figures show that in 2007-09, out of the most established sports in the country – NFL, NBA, NASCAR, MLB and the MLS – all suffered losses in both their “avid” and overall fan-bases, with only the NHL’s showing small growth. UFC, however, increased its “avid” following by 14%, and its overall viewership by 30%, blowing the other long-standing franchises out of the water.
As UFC gains more exposure and the public becomes more transfixed by the sport, local gyms are offering more MMA classes. Such has been the rapid growth in popular enthusiasm, the UFC estimates its then 30 events a year reach 354 million homes in 145 countries.
So what is it about MMA that has led to such a surge in popularity? The role played by the UFC cannot be underestimated. The global brand, which UFC has now become, has helped to put MMA on the professional sports map. It has organised the sport so that fighters are organized into weight classes and enforced regulations to make it accessible to a wide audience.
TV viewership is mainstream, with networks such as SpikeTV and FoxSports1 invariably showing bouts on the weekend. Furthermore, the UFC has expanded in both size and diversity. There are now female fighters, with Ronda Rousey being one of the best-known. She recently declared she’d like to fight Floyd Mayweather Jr.
UFC has taken commercial advantage of its increased public prominence, for example with the first successful UFC computer game, created by EA Sports, in 2014.
Now, UFC is looking to expand its reach further, and the UK market is in its sights. There is a clear gap in the market – boxing is big, but there is no martial art embedded as a national sport. There is Jiu Jitsu in Brazil, Karate and Judo in Japan, with collegiate wrestling a firmly established pastime in the USA. Yet, in Britain, there appears to be no obvious equivalent.
Conor McGregor, Dublin born and raised, is our closest big-name MMA fighter, but there is plenty of room for more talent to emerge and build home-grown support. UK-based sponsors could play a role, investing in the sport to encourage more talent to come through. With UFC taking off globally, it is only a matter of time before the sport takes off in the UK, so now may be the time for sponsors and backers to start devising their fight strategy.
Written by Henry Davies