When Gilbert Melendez and Diego Sanchez slugged it out last weekend at UFC 166, it was shades of Barrera vs. Morales I all over again.
The sport of MMA has long been seen as one of the most dynamic sports around, yet one of the most proven markets—that of Mexico—has remained nothing more than a spot on the map. We often hear that the UFC has plans to expand into Mexico, but thus far zero seasons of The Ultimate Fighter have been geared toward that glorious end.
If UFC 166 proved anything, it should be that the time is now for Zuffa to focus all of their available energies down south, because the risk is clearly worth the reward.
The bout between Melendez and Sanchez may go down as one of the best fights in MMA history. Such fights are not an anomaly; the sport of boxing has long seen some of its greatest fights contested by Mexican warriors.
When looking at Ring Magazine’s Fights of the Year from 1990 to 2010, 11 of those bouts featured fighters from Mexico.
And now, for the first time in combative sport history, a Mexican-American heavyweight champion is thriving. When Cain Velasquez defeated Brock Lesnar to claim the UFC heavyweight title, he became the first ever Mexican-American to claim a heavyweight title.
Now, not only is he back in the saddle, but he looks to be in firm command of one of the marquee divisions in all of combative sport. He’s defended his title twice, and if he can do it just two more times he will be the longest reigning heavyweight champion in history.
If ever there was a time to break new ground, it’s now.
Odds are the Melendez vs. Sanchez bout is going to become FOTY for 2013. When coupled with the dominance of Velasquez, the result is a rare kind of momentum that could open many doors that were previously closed.
Should the UFC make a successful entrance to Mexico, it could see a portion of the next wave of future Mexican superstars migrating toward the sport of MMA, especially in the lower weight divisions.
The next Juan Manuel Marquez, or even Julio Cesar Chavez, could become MMA fighters, but only if the UFC is willing to take the next step. Make no mistake about it—the next wave of Mexican fighters is coming; the question is, will they migrate to boxing, or will the UFC give them another option?
As with many things, timing is everything. Should Velasquez be in the near future, a thrust into Mexico could lose some of its gravitas.
Given that the sport has always been about answering questions, the time has come for the promotion to step into the cage and follow suit.
Will they bring the fight to Mexico, or will they let their best window of opportunity close?