In the Next 10 Years, MMA Will Be the Biggest Sport on the Planet

Brian OswaldMMA Editor March 28, 2009

A few years ago, such a statement would have drawn ridicule. Time has a way of demonstrating that the most stubborn are the most intelligent. The title of the article also is a declaration made by UFC President Dana White, a man whom many would consider nothing less then obstinate.

Mr. White also has declared, “If you take four street corners, and on one they are playing baseball, on another they are playing basketball and on the other, street hockey. On the fourth corner, a fight breaks out. Where does the crowd go? They all go to the fight."

Right now the “crowd” is the mainstream sports fan, and he is turning toward that fourth corner in increasing number. What many fans may not realize is that mixed martial arts has existed in some form or fashion for thousands of years.

The earliest documented, organized, minimal-rules martial art was pankration, which was introduced at the Greek Olympic Games in 648 B.C. It was founded as a blend of boxing and wrestling. Pankratiasts were highly skilled grapplers and extremely effective in applying a variety of takedowns, chokes, and punishing joint locks.

Greek pankration later inspired the more violent Etruscan and Roman pancratium, which was showcased at the Roman Colosseum. Even as late as the Early Middle Ages, statues were raised in Rome and other cities to honor the remarkable pankratiasts of Rome.

Fast-forward more than 2,500 years and we have our modern and stylized version of MMA, which can be viewed on a high-definition television from the comfort of your living room.

At this current juncture, many may find themselves asking questions like “where does MMA grow from here?” and “has MMA actually peaked in terms of popularity?” Such questions are worth being asked, as well as answered, with the proper context.

The sport gained international exposure and widespread publicity in the United States in 1993, when Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighter Royce Gracie handily won the first UFC tournament, sparking a revolution in the martial arts.

In Japan, the continued interest in the sport resulted in the creation of the PRIDE organization in 1997.

In “sports years,” modern MMA is still somewhere between infant and adolescent.

In terms of the “product life cycle,” MMA is still very much in the growth stage.

Indicators of this are significant increase in sales volume, increased public awareness, and increased competition–with a few new players in establishing market.

The sport has seen its share of “new players” who have entered and subsequently been bounced from the fiscal cage. The cast list includes the IFL and ELITE XC, who came, spent cash, and faded from the spotlight with bankruptcy being the only consolation.

Affliction appears to be gearing up for its “third time's a charm” event. For some reason, its marketing department said it was a good idea to counterprogram UFC 100, perhaps the biggest fight card since the days of the Roman Colisseum.

Amidst all the chaos, a once quiet organization has come forward onto the main stage of MMA.

Strikeforce, a U.S.-based mixed martial arts promotion, based in San Jose, CA, paid a cool $3 million for the assets of the now-defunct ELITE XC and has now emerged as second fiddle to the UFC, and deservedly so.

What Dana White and the rest of the UFC brass may or may not realize ... Strikeforce could be the best thing to happen to them since the TUF Season One finale between Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar. 

Often times, the second fiddle can act as the tipping point for bigger and better things.

Think of the American football league, circa 1960-1969. The whole idea for a new professional football league seemed so far-fetched, that even after AFL teams started playing, the original eight team owners became known as the "Foolish Club."

What no one could have anticipated is that almost every element that makes pro football the sport that it is today can be traced to the AFL and the huge changes its presence eventually brought to the sport when it was merged with the NFL in 1970.

By the time the fierce AFL-NFL war of the 1960s was over, the expanded National Football League of the 1970s stretched from coast-to-coast and from border-to-border. The resultant “Super Bowl” would go on to become the most watched sports spectacle in the history of the world.

Football is not the only sport where we have seen such instance.

The American Basketball Association (ABA) was a professional basketball league founded in 1967. The ABA ceased to exist with the ABA-NBA merger in 1976. While the circumstances surrounding the merger were different, it offers further evidence of an up-start organization merging with a more established organization to improve the overall quality of a sport.

While calling Strikeforce the “AFL of mixed martial arts” may not draw full parallel, fans can remain cautiously optimistic that the organization will serve as catalyst for the growth and evolution of this “new” sport.

Now when you are asking yourself questions like, “has the sport peaked?,” you will have a new point of reference. Remember, history is said to repeat itself, and sports are no exception.