You can practically pinpoint the evening that hardcore MMA fans were created. It was April 9, 2005. Stephan Bonnar took on Forrest Griffin for the honor of being crowned the first light heavyweight Ultimate Fighter.
The two went toe-to-toe from bell to bell. It was a fight so spectacular that UFC President Dana White ended up giving a prestigious UFC contract to both men. The bout was an instant American classic—and a turning point for MMA fandom.
Before the reality show, there was no such thing as a casual MMA fan. There was nothing casual at all about following this sport. It required a significant commitment of time and resources just to find the best fights from all over the world. You had to work for it, locating Japanese grocery stores or shady bootleg VHS dealers to get your MMA fix.
Even if you stuck to the UFC, it was no easy task. For years the events weren't available on cable pay-per-view. You needed a satellite dish to find them. And for people living in an urban area, that was next to impossible.
That meant everyone was a hardcore MMA fan. You couldn't be a fan without being hardcore. It was more than a hobby. Being an MMA fan was a lifestyle choice.
The Ultimate Fighter and the rise of internet video changed all that. There were no more barriers to entry. A new class of fan entered our communities with no investment required at all. They simply tuned their televisions to Spike TV and, voila, a casual MMA fan was born.
It created a divide. Between fans who respected the history of our sport and those who believe the history began in 2005.
Between those who remember a time when there were several world-class promotions all over the globe and those who have only known the Zuffa era of UFC dominance. There were people who knew the legends like Kazushi Sakuraba and Ken Shamrock and folks who just wanted to see a big ole hoss like Brock Lesnar punch someone in the face.
Today, the divide remains. A new breed of hardcore fan has emerged. He (or she, as the demographics have shifted to include many female fans) watches Bellator, Invicta Fights, Jungle Fights and Japanese classics like Shooto and Pancrase. The casuals stick to UFC programming, some only the biggest fights between the brightest stars.
The new hardcores are excited to see someone like Jake Ellenberger fight. The casuals couldn't pick Jake Ellenberger out of a lineup and are waiting patiently for the next Anderson Silva or Georges St-Pierre to enter the cage again.
The divide is as wide as ever. There are hardcore fans and casual fans. Where do you stand? Let me know in the comments.