Why ESPN Will Never Fully Embrace MMA, Will Always Clash with UFC

Matthew HemphillCorrespondent IIJanuary 31, 2012

picture courtesy of chicagonow.com
picture courtesy of chicagonow.com

MMA still has a lot of hurdles to cross when it comes to mainstream acceptance. The sport is still banned in New York and has plenty of detractors across the world who don't understand the sport.

It doesn't help that one of those detractors is ESPN, the sports conglomerate famous for its coverage and SportsCenter.

What it isn't well known for is its coverage of MMA.

Some of the perception that ESPN is against MMA is a knee-jerk reaction to the Outside the Lines piece it just did on UFC fighter pay. It came off as half-baked because there was a lack of fighters currently employed by the UFC willing to talk on camera.

If that was the only reason that could be given, it would be more appropriate to say ESPN had an issue with the UFC and was choosing to cover a topic it knew would get it noticed and increase revenue.

But ESPN does have a bias against MMA. For the longest time it never covered it and even now it is only starting to take notice of it.

That wouldn't mean anything except it flies right in the face of its slogan: "The Worldwide Leader in Sports." That is ESPN's mantra and it even shows up on the link to its Web site when Googled.

But MMA doesn't get the same kind of coverage that other sports get and in the end it shows when fans click on the Web site.

MMA is nowhere to be found on the front page and the link to the ESPN MMA portion of the Web site can't be found without clicking on the "More Sports" section and then scrolling to the bottom of the page.

The link to the MMA portion of the Web site can be found here below the boxing part of the site mixed in with lacrosse and horse racing.

While I can't speak for lacrosse and horse racing, as a writer who has done both boxing and MMA articles for Bleacher Report I can say MMA is viewed by a much wider audience. To have it below boxing isn't just insulting, it's bad business.

ESPN even had a show called MMA Live, but it is Internet based and lacks exposure. It has also lost a decent analyst in Jon Anik, who was recently hired by the UFC. The show hasn't been featured as heavily as it once was either.

MMA isn't as well known as football or basketball and doesn't have as many fans. One day that may change, but for now it is the truth. The fact that ESPN focuses on those sports more makes sense.

However, MMA is growing and ESPN isn't expanding its coverage at the same rate.

Its biggest contribution to MMA in recent months was the OTL piece that disparaged the sport's biggest promoter.

With MMA on FOX and the sport getting bigger everyday their is little possibility that it won't grow into a major phenomenon like boxing once was.

The Worldwide Leader in Sports.

It is up to ESPN if it wants to live up to that moniker.


Matthew Hemphill writes for the MMA and professional wrestling portion of Bleacher Report.  He also hosts a blog elbaexiled.blogspot.com, which focuses on books, music, comic books, video games, film and generally anything that could be related to the realms of nerdom.