In 2009, mixed martial arts was the only sport in North America to grow in fan avidity according to an ESPN sports poll.
According to MMAPayout.com, pay-per-view buys during 2010 for the UFC did an estimated 8,970,000 buys for its 15 shows during the year, for an average of 598,000 buys per show, which was up from any past year's buy rates (www.mmapayout.com, February 15, 2011).
From a social media perspective, the UFC continues to rise in its popularity on both Facebook and Twitter. According to Simon Dumenco on December 10, 2010, the UFC is at No. 10 for the trendiest topics tweeted, ahead of the NFL and the other major North American sports leagues.
(http://mmapayout.com/2010/12/ufc-makes-weekly-top-twitter-trends-list, February 15, 2011)
Globally affluent sponsorships are flocking to the UFC and other MMA promotions including Budweiser which adds a level of credibility to the sport and directs more attention to ultimate fighting.
Additionally, the sport has seen a rise in personalities which enables the fans to associate themselves with their favorite fighters. Brock Lesnar, Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre are becoming household names and corporations are taking notice.
Let me flash forward to 2011.
Ultimate fighting as a sport continues to grow and flourish globally. With the UFC leading the charge, Strikeforce and Bellator Fighting Championships are packing arenas worldwide, selling millions of dollars in merchandise globally and elevating the brand that is ultimate fighting to an unforeseen height.
Leading the charge in popularity are Brock Lesnar and the 10 figures that will make MMA mainstream in 2011.
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Not so much a figure, but more of an entity, Harley Davidson is "an American legend." Dominating nearly half the motorcycle sales, Harley Davidson was the first blue chip sponsorship pairing with the UFC signifying a relationship between MMA and a global powerhouse.
"We see our brand embodied in these fighters: young, aggressive, hard working individuals who cut against the grain," Mark-Hans Richer, Harley-Davidson senior vice president and chief marketing officer, said in a statement.
(www.azcentral.com/business/consumer/articles/0118biz-davidsonufcdeal18-ON.html, February 15, 2011).
This pairing between the UFC and Harley Davidson bolsters both parties image with fight fans worldwide. This relationship elevates not only the UFC, but mixed martial arts as well.
Rest assured that Harley Davidson opened the door for other blue chip corporations including Budweiser and many more to come.
As fight venues continue to sell out and millions of dollars are earned, the pairings between the mixed martial art's promotions and well established corporations will continue to form relationships.
In the end, these pairings elevate mixed martial arts and will help make MMA mainstream in 2011.
Herschel Walker's accolades outside the Octagon generated a fan following that continues today.
At 48 years old, those who watched him during his college years continued to watch him throughout his professional football days and subsequently, watch him now as a mixed martial artist over 20 years later.
Walker's legacy is second to none and rivals those athletes who have been talented enough to excel in various professional sports including Deion Sanders and Bo Jackson.
Herschel Walker's accomplishments on the gridiron include being the 1982 Heisman Trophy winner at the University of Georgia, fifth on the NFL's all-time career rushing list and the only player to gain 4,000 yards in three different ways: rushing, receiving and kickoff return-yards.
And now, he is a 6'1", 220 pound, chiseled fighting force for Strikeforce. With two TKO victories to his credit in his two professional fights, Walker lacks the experience expected to be on a list of those who will propel mixed martial arts into mainstream America in 2011.
However, he is the one athlete who can bridge the generation gap between those who watched him during his days at the University of Georgia and the younger, newcomers to the sport.
Walker's athleticism and physique has no age restriction. He is still as explosive and agile as he was during his football days and is a tremendous striker who is willing to exchange in the center of the cage.
Those who believed in him during the 1980's will continue to support this legend.
Additionally, the younger generation will continue to respect and admire him because he is fully devoted to MMA and continues to excel inside the cage and support the sport outside of it.
Once during a generation an athlete comes along whose performance in their respective sport forces fans shake their head in praise and astonishment.
Kevin Durant's shooting touch for the Oklahoma City Thunder, Peyton Manning's dissection of a defense at the line of scrimmage and Stephen Strasburg's 100+ MPH fastball for the Washington Nationals are examples of that level of excellence that creates a hype and buzz filling stadiums and engaging water cooler conversations.
Jose Aldo, the UFC featherweight champion, is such an athlete.
At 18-1 with 12 knockout victories, Jose Aldo has demolished his competition with lethal leg kicks, precise punches and an unconventional approach inside the Octagon that cannot be replicated.
He is truly one of a kind.
Dominating some of the best featherweight fighters on the planet including former champions Urijah Faber and Mike Brown, Jose Aldo rides his wave of confidence into his first title defense at UFC 129 in Toronto, Canada versus Mark Hominick.
The No. 3 pound-for-pound fighter on the planet according to Sherdog.com, Aldo's abilities inside the Octagon will engage fans to take notice of his performance, if they have not already, elevating not only the UFC, but mixed martial arts as a whole.
Dana White is one of the most successful businessmen to ever step foot inside a board room.
Back in 2001, the current owners of the UFC bought the bankrupt organization for $2 million. Eight years later, the UFC’s worth has eclipsed the $1 billion mark and Dana White has trail-blazed that resurrection.
A stern owner who demands quality inside the Octagon, White is not short on words, nor does he filter his emotions.
Rightfully defined as a spoon, White is willing to not only utilize the microphone or a computer to stir up controversy, but with the emergence and global impact of social media, he will tweet his displeasure with or praise of anybody, any organization, or anything at anytime.
This brash, boisterous leadership of the world's biggest mixed martial arts promotion has created a solid foothold in the MMA industry.
Hands down, without Dana White, the UFC would not be at the level of success it is today.
And subsequently, without Dana White, mixed martial arts would not be the global force it is today. He has his hand in most everything that occurs worldwide for the sport.
His proactive and revolutionary approach to the fight venues, social media's viral impact, pay-per-view evolution including incorporating preliminary fights on Spike and Facebook, as well as the expansion of the UFC to new lands will expand the UFC brand and draw new fans to mixed martial arts.
Dana White will be the captain of the ship that brings MMA to mainstream appeal in 2011.
Rivalries are great for sports.
North Carolina versus Duke is one of the biggest games in college basketball. The Green Bay Packers versus the Chicago Bears draws national attention for football. And Manny Pacquiao versus Floyd Mayweather is a boxing fan's biggest wish.
All of these examples draw attention to the sport, selling out venues, creating an elevated hype and buzz and splitting fans into two factions.
Additionally, the anticipation and enhanced level of competition because of the rivalry creates an excitement that is unmatched.
The UFC bantamweight division has such a rivalry. Former WEC featherweight champion, Urijah Faber is now competing at the 135 pound weight class. The current champion of that division is Dominick Cruz.
With an overall 17-1 MMA record, Cruz's only blemish to his record is a result of a guillotine choke executed by Faber in 2007.
Fast forward to 2011 and this rivalry has eclipsed its previous levels.
Bantering back and forth with timely trash talk and a recent call out of Urijah Faber by Dominick Cruz and the mixed martial arts community will bare witness to this rematch at some point during this year.
This rivalry draws new fans to the sport, partly due to Faber's huge sponsorship deals including K Swiss which continues to elevate the Urijah Faber brand.
Additionally, Dominick Cruz's performance inside the Octagon captivates new fans drawing them to the bantamweight division daily.
Besides this tremendous rivalry, lots of fight fans worldwide can relate to Faber and Cruz because of their size.
It is difficult for most people to believe they can achieve the level of fame and stature of a Brock Lesnar or an Alistair Overeem because they are not blessed with that tremendous size.
However, watching Faber and Cruz compete allows fans to dream of a day when they may grace the center of the Octagon. That adds fuel to this already roaring fire.
Place these two tremendous athletes inside the Octagon and the result will be a fight for the ages.
A picture says a thousand words. And what the current Strikeforce welterweight champion is conveying in the picture above is f**k you and everyone else.
Every hero needs a villain. And every sport needs a bad boy. And the bad boy of Strikeforce is Nick Diaz.
An extremely talented fighter inside the cage, Diaz has an overall MMA record of 24-7 with 12 knockouts. He holds victories over some of the sport's best including Frank Shamrock, Robbie Lawler and Takanori Gomi.
The skill-set Diaz displays inside the Octagon is a well-balanced fluidity of boxing and Brazilian jiu-jitsu with an unlimited cardiovascular tank.
Outside the Octagon, Diaz's polarizing personality is also a well-balanced fluidity of arrogance, brashness and contempt for anyone who dares to disrespect the Stockton, California native.
The intriguing aspect of Nick Diaz is that for every fan that hates him, there is one that loves him.
As is stated, bad press is good press. And Diaz creates a fan following of thousands of people who want to punch him in his face as well as those who want to slap him on the back in support.
His personality in addition to his championship caliber fighting ability will continue to draw appeal and attention to Strikeforce and ultimate fighting.
With a 34–11 MMA record, Alistair Overeem is the No. 8 ranked heavyweight according to Sherdog.com.
At 6’5” 255 pounds of lean muscle, his imposing figure compliments his extremely gifted stand up skills and well versed ground game.
With 14 stoppages by (T)KO and 19 submission victories, Alistair is a total package and a tremendous force to be reckoned with throughout all of MMA.
Blessed with size, strength and power; trained in the art of kick-boxing and Brazilian jiu-jitsu; and the experience of a well seasoned veteran at the young age of 30, Alistair, on paper, would be a suitable match-up for a title holder in any promotion.
The knock on this Dutchman is his lack of quality opponents as well as unwillingness to compete on a regular basis inside the Octagon.
That blemish to his reputation will be resolved on April 9th when he challenges the current No. 3 heavyweight in the world, Fabricio Werdum, at the Strikeforce quarterfinals of the heavyweight tournament in Japan.
If Overeem is successful in defeating the first man to force a tap-out of the legendary Fedor Emelianenko, then fans will definitely take notice of this fierce, wrecking machine.
As Alistair Overeem's notoriety grows, so does the value of his heavyweight championship belt in Strikeforce resulting in more worldwide exposure and an increase in fan support.
The UFC was not shy in their marketing campaign of current UFC heavyweight champion, Cain Velasquez, to the people of Mexico.
The Mexican community backed Cain Velasquez prior to his annihilation of former heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar and they are even more supportive of their "native son" as he wears the sport's most coveted belt around his waist.
Mexico has always been very loyal to combat sports and has been equally supportive of those champions with Mexican descent.
The UFC is aware of this support and will capitalize on Velasquez's heritage. The residuals of this marketing campaign will be tremendously profitable.
Additionally, Cain Velasquez's championship reign draws potentially millions of new fans to the sport of mixed martial arts throughout all Latino communities.
These fans will relate with their hero and support the UFC and ultimate fighting in the process.
The dream match-up for the UFC is between the current middleweight champion, Anderson "The Spider" Silva and the current welterweight champion, Georges "Rush" St-Pierre.
Depending on the poll, these two amazing athletes are the No. 1 and No. 2 pound-for-pound fighters in the world.
Anderson Silva is reveling in a lethal, knockout victory via front leg kick over fellow Brazilian, Vitor Belfort.
Georges St-Pierre, on the other hand, is preparing to defend his title against Jake Shields at UFC 129 in Toronto on April 30, 2011.
According to UFC President Dana White after Silva's victory, in the event that GSP wins in his title defense these two famed fighters will meet at middleweight.
What promises to be the biggest fight in mixed martial arts history, an early wagering line has already been established by Bodog favoring the Brazilian, Silva over the Canadian, St-Pierre.
Besides breaking all pay-per-view buy records, the global impact of this fight will elevate the UFC and ultimate fighting to an unforeseen level.
Mainstream media outlets, ESPN, social media sources, newspapers, magazines, search engines and every conceivable reporting source will be drawn to this epic match-up.
There is no denying that Brock Lesnar is the biggest draw in mixed martial arts today.
Eclipsing all previous pay-per-view buy records, the venues in which Lesnar headlines not only sell out, they achieve records for buy-rates worldwide.
With the announcement that Brock will be a coach on the next season of The Ultimate Fighter, it is almost guaranteed that the TUF season's ratings will surpass any previous marks.
Lesnar's appeal is an enigma. As big of a polarizing star in any sport, experts denounce his overall fighting ability inside the Octagon, he has alienated some of UFC's biggest sponsorship deals in the past and Brock acts in a self-serving, sometimes disrespectful and extremely arrogant manner.
None of which has lessened his appeal!
Between his coaching stint and subsequent battle versus fellow Ultimate Fighter Season 13 coach, Junior dos Santos, Lesnar will aid in placing the UFC brand on his broad shoulders and leap its popularity into the stratosphere.