The sport of Mixed Martial Arts has grown over the last decade by leaps and bounds, establishing itself as a real sport and then as one of the top sports in the world.
The UFC has been at the forefront of this era and truly has been the ambassador for the sport. But it is the last few years that have become some of the most significant changes to date.
It started in March of 2007, when the Fertitta’s bought the Pride Fighting Championships. This brought upon a wave of some of the most recognized Light Heavyweight and Heavyweight fighters today as well as others. By acquiring their competition, the UFC made another move toward cornering the market.
Of course over time, The Ultimate Fighter has played a role and continued to through the years. From season one it has produced notable fighters in the UFC and other promotions.
UFC 100 proved to be a signature moment, headlining two title fights and a stacked card of great fights.
This card truly established GSP’s dominance, Henderson’s right hand, and Lesnar’s credibility in the sport. Later, UFC 129 would also prove to be a similar event with the largest audience ever for the UFC.
In 2010, one of the most exciting business moves took place. Long time sister promotion, World Extreme Cagefighting finally merged with the UFC. Not only did this bring on a slew of great, marketable fighters, but also brought upon two brand new and exciting weight classes.
The merger created a new wave of challengers for the Lightweight belt, and gives a lower weight option for fighters who want to drop down more, such as Kenny Florian.
By merging the WEC and UFC, fans became eager to see the potential match-ups at Lightweight, and the generally exciting fights the lower weight classes bring. Fans also pondered what would be included in the newest installment of the UFC Undisputed video game.
As if it wasn’t already monopolizing the sport market, in 2011, the UFC made one of the most surprising purchases to date. Zuffa announced that they had bought Strikeforce, arguably their biggest competitor. Immediately fans wanted to know about a possible merger, fighters crossing over, cross-promotion fights, as well as the state of women’s MMA.
Since then, Strikeforce has continued as it has, minus some UFC promos in the ring and on their PPV.
Fighters such as Jason Miller and Jake Shields have already crossed over, and Nick Diaz will be fighting in the UFC in October. Now that Dan Henderson’s contract with SF is up, we may very well see him back in the Octagon at Light Heavyweight.
Since then, the promotional side of the UFC has begun to capture the eyes of fans and those of people who do not know what the UFC or MMA is. Many companies have sponsored and promoted fights, and the fighters themselves.
K-Swiss has made numerous commercials using UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jon Jones and his business partner, former WEC Featherweight Champion Urijah Faber. Jon Jones and Arianny Celeste have had their moments with one of the UFC’s biggest sponsors, BudLight.
UnderArmour, ESPN, and Gatorade Canada has had UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St. Pierre star in many commercials as well.
A TV viewer may not be on channels watching ESPN, but they most certainly know about the US Marines. The Marines have become very involved, and the UFC has returned the favor to the Armed Forces.
MMA has become such a phenomenon, other athletes from other sports have become interested in the sport. James Toney has crossed over to the MMA world, as well as many former NFL players. Chad Ochocinco has verbally expressed his interest, even if it is just talk, in the sport as well.
Shaquille O’neal has been involved with MMA for quite some time, and many Wrestling stars have sought to join the MMA ranks. Brock Lesnar has done so with vigor, but guys like Batista will probably have to wait.
And if commercials and other sports weren’t enough, the sport is beginning to take over the big screen. Many films now have showcased MMA fighters in the past, but have not given them significant roles necessarily. Recently though, fighters have made an impact on the film industry.
Many documentaries are in the works or have been made about MMA fighters such as; Matt Hamill, Anderson Silva, Evan Tanner, Renzo Gracie, Rich Franklin, and others.
While The Scorpion King 2 wasn’t his shining moment, Randy Couture has gone on to star in The Expendables, and will return in The Expendables 2. Rampage Jackson has starred in The A-Team and there were rumors of him possibly being in a Marvel movie as Luke Cage.
Coming in September, it is not the fighters who will be showcased, but the sport itself. While moviegoers have had to endure such films as Never Back Down, they will finally have something much more legitimate. The movie Warrior, which is about two brothers that are both involved in MMA, and whose family ties have been tried and complicated.
While casting a few MMA fighters, the main stars are all actors, including Tom Hardy from Inception and the upcoming The Dark Knight Rises.
Normally, the fighters will play a cameo role, or one of the support parts of a film.
However, in the upcoming action film, Haywire, the game has changed. Gina Carano, known as the "Face of Women’s MMA", will be the lead role in Steven Soderbergh’s movie. She will be alongside actors such as Antonio Banderas, Michael Douglas, Ewan McGregor, Bill Paxton, and Channing Tatum.
As time rolls on, fans eagerly await the next big development of the sport, and of the UFC. While still needing to sanction the sport in a few states, the UFC is on its way to making the sport one of the greatest sports of all time. Time will tell what will happen, but it can be confidently said that MMA is still going strong and shows no signs of stopping.
What do you think is the most significant factor from the last few years?
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