Put your bias aside, stop hating for a moment and analyze the current landscape of mixed martial arts.
What you will find is a sole promotion that stands atop the ratings; having amassed the most notoriety and popularity, while containing the best stable of fighters. The Ultimate Fighting Championship is the number one MMA organization in the world and has only just begun to flex its muscles.
Ironically, MMA was not always flourishing as it does now. Briefly rewind to the days of unsanctioned fights, lawless combat and “human cock fighting.” UFC One took place in November of 1993 and despite the sports alluring nature, the brutality and violence made it almost impossible to make profitable.
With mounting political and fiscal pressure, the organization was bleeding money and in dire straights. The promotion was on the brink of bankruptcy and the owners wanted out immediately. As for the sport itself, it was quickly losing relevancy in the U.S. and the available market space was drying up.
Yet on the verge of collapse, Station Casinos’ executives Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, along with childhood friend and boxing promoter Dana White, bought the fledgling promotion in 2001 for $2 million and forever changed the history of the sport.
Today, that same organization is valued at over $1 billion. It produces monthly pay-per-views with an annual buy rate that surpasses professional wrestling and boxing.
Spearheaded by aggressive marketing campaigns, their reality television series and White’s boisterous personality, the UFC has become a household name. Yet despite the organizations continual successes, some of the accolades have been overshadowed by White’s antics.
Dana White serves as the polarizing and controversial figurehead for the UFC and critics have been quick to scrutinize him. Specifically, White has alienated some due to his inappropriate outbursts, off hand remarks, cut throat business practices and his overall lack of a professional demeanor. While many of these criticisms are justified and well deserved, too much has been made over his behavior and the actual success of the UFC has become a sub plot.
Under White’s leadership, the UFC has transitioned into mainstream America. White was instrumental in landing the Anneheiser Busch partnership. Established fighters like Chuck Liddell have become A-list celebrities as his cameo on HBO’s Entourage demonstrated. Former two division champ Randy Couture has made a foray into making movies and lightweight Roger Huerta graced the cover of Sports Illustrated.
Furthermore, ESPN has made UFC fighters available for ESPY awards, as well as extending their coverage of UFC events, thus reiterating the belief that UFC has begun to blend professional sport with entertainment.
More importantly, the UFC is not content establishing itself in the United States alone. It wants to be an international sport with a base in every continent. White and the Fertitta’s have taken giant strides in legitimizing the sport nationally as well as place such as Germany, Canada and the United Kingdom. More countries are soon to follow suite and MMA’s growth will continue its rapid development under the UFC banner.
Besides the obvious contributions the UFC has made on behalf of MMA, it also consistently produces the best product. Unlike boxing, which has become convoluted with paper champions and undeserving challengers, the UFC almost always produced fights the public demanded. There is no conflicting bureaucracy within the organization which makes it possible to arrange the best match ups.
Additionally, the UFC has introduced the concept of a stacked fight card. The main event is no longer the only attraction of the night; rather, there are typically several key bouts of note. For example, UFC 100 will feature two title fights, a number one contender’s match and a plethora of established veterans. Essentially, the audience is getting far more bang for their buck compared to previous combat pay-per-views.
Floyd Mayweather, Manny Pacquiao and a faded Ricky Hatton are all that remains of boxing’s main attractions. The UFC on the other hand, is ripe with reputable stars and a crop of young, hungry prospects. So despite the reservations being voiced by a segment of fans, remember, as the sport continues to thrive, the UFC will be at the forefront and set the precedent for other promotions.