Having read some very interesting pieces over the last few days I have been going over a thought in my head. MMA is unique in the fact that its growth in popularity has almost gone hand in hand with the expansion of the internet. The question is whether or not this is a good or bad thing?
The obvious answer to that question would be that it has been extremely good for MMA and that with out the internet communities that so vocally support it, the sport would not be where it is today. On the flipside one could argue that it is those internet communities and fans which are the very thing holding the sport back from becoming truly mainstream.
Before the UFC became what it is today, it was only viewed by a small minority on PPV or on dodgy videos borrowed from a mate of a mate. It was underground and not liked by mainstream society. This of course has slowly changed over the years through the hard work of Zuffa and the UFC in giving the sport of MMA legitimacy.
Whilst the UFC and Dana White were hard at work re-branding the UFC getting it legalized and sanctioned by Athletic commissions the Internet world was undergoing growth and expansion as well. The concept of blogging, forums and internet communities where starting to form. The new internet savvy generation that developed were vocal and wanted to speak their mind and for the first time they had free reign to do it with the internet.
People who liked things non mainstream (porn, goth, gay, MMA, etc...) finally had a forum to talk about what they liked without fear of ridicule. This of course is where the growth off MMA fans began in my opinion. Regardless of its perception by mainstream media it became ok to like MMA and you could share your opinions and thoughts with other like minded people online. This is shown with the plethora of MMA dedicated sites now available. I think this expansion has been key to the rapid growth of the sport.
If there is breaking news in MMA I can't think of any other sport that develops so much reaction, and discussion so quickly. Any sport is driven by its fans and I think that MMA is an extreme example. The UFC must be given credit as they have used this to their advantage well. Dana White's video blogs, twitter feeds are good examples of them embracing the online world that is so intertwined with the success of MMA. I personally love how online a sport MMA is and I'm guessing you do to if you are reading this.
However is this symbiotic link between MMA and the internet holding the sport back?There is an argument that the mainstream media are afraid of online communities such as ourselves because essentially we as commentators on MMA are doing them out of a job. No TV sports centre or newspaper or mainstream online site will get MMA news sooner then you are I could be looking on our preferred MMA website. Is this really holding the sport back though?
The fact that we don't use mainstream sports news sources, has meant for most that they chose not to cover MMA. You can view mainstream sports, there governing bodies and their media partners as an "old boys club". They all do very well from eachother and they like the ways things are. MMA is this young obnoxious cousin who is making a lot of noise and isn't including the old boys in their success. The problem being that MMA needs these "old boys" to make it to the next level.
Once attitudes change and MMA is covered widely across different sports platforms we may see another burst in the growth of the sport. The problem is until fans are going to the likes of ESPN, BBC etc... for MMA news then why would these companies bother to cover the sport. Its a reciprocal relationship and they need to make money from MMA as well.
Good or bad its hard to argue that MMA is unique in its relationship with the internet. Personally I think that mainstream sports could actually learn some things from MMA and its online communities. Who knows the likes of B/R could be the future and that fan opinion is what matters most to people and not the opinion of an ex-player!
Overall I think the internet has been key to the growth of MMA. However there will be a point when the sport will need traditional media sources to reach the next level and become mainstream. Just remember that everything you write about MMA is shaping a sport that is still forming so lets remain educated fans and help the sport continue to grow.