Mixed Martial Arts is the fastest growing sport in the world and the UFC is at the forefront in terms of the progression and evolution of the game. The UFC has had a sharp gain in mainstream media and popularity with viewers now accessing the programming in over 135 countries and 21 different languages worldwide.
In light of an incredible UFC Rio this weekend, let us look at recent developments taking the sport to the next level.
On October 28th, UFC President Dana White announced the WEC merger and the addition of two new weight divisions at Bantamweight (135lbs.) and Featherweight (145lbs.).
“As the UFC continues to evolve and grow globally, we want to be able to give fans title fights in every weight division,” said White at the official press conference. “This is a big day for the sport and the athletes who will have the opportunity to fight on the biggest stage in the world.”
The move deepened the UFC roster considerably and strengthened their position as the premier MMA organisation with seven weight divisions. Huge stars included Jose Aldo (UFC Featherweight Champion), Dominick Cruz (UFC Bantamweight Champion), Anthony Pettis, Urijah Faber, Ben Henderson and Donald Cerrone to name a few.
On March 12, 2011, Dana White revealed that Zuffa had purchased rival MMA promotion Strikeforce, which would continue day to day operations as a separate promotion run by CEO Scott Coker.
As with the purchase of Pride Fighting Championships, the Strikeforce purchase was significant in Zuffa acquiring more top fighters including at the time Alistair Overeem and Fedor Emelianenko, Dan Henderson, Ronaldo Souza, Nick Diaz, Antonio Silva, Gilbert Melendez, Cristiane Santos and a whole host of stars.
It is strongly believed that as with the WEC, the UFC shall eventually merge the two in a gradual process, which has started with the movement of Nick Diaz to take on Georges St. Pierre at UFC 137. Along with the big name release of Fedor Emelianenko and Alistair Overeem a clear sign of Zuffa flexing control over their new asset.
This was a clear sign of the UFC continuing in the NFL's and NBA's footsteps, which pursued the aggressive strategy of absorbing opposing competition, ultimately securing themselves as the premier name in their respective sports and the quest for acceptance in the mainstream.
On August 18, 2011, The Ultimate Fighting Championship and FOX announced a momentous seven year broadcast deal.
The deal includes four events on the main FOX network, 32 live fights a year on Friday night on FX and 24 events following The Ultimate Fighter Live (TUF) and six separate Fight Night events. The UFC maintains production control of its product whilst Fox Sports will produce the related programming.
This landmark agreement put the UFC on par with many of the top professional sport organizations in joining FOX, which is the No. 1 network in the U.S. and home to the country’s biggest sports events, including the Super Bowl, World Series and Daytona 500.
This move to network television, in my humble opinion is the biggest thing to happen to the UFC and MMA to date and is set to five the sport main stream accessibility.
The UFC made an astute move to return to Brazil in the midst of growing economy, sporting prominence as hosts of 2014 FIFA World Cup and the 2016 Olympic Games not to mention its historical links to the sport of MMA.
On December 15th, 2010, it was announced that the UFC would return to Brazil after 13 years with UFC 134 Rio on 27th August 2011 in Rio de Janeiro.
The event that concluded this past weekend was such a resounding success that rumours are arife of a 2012 super event return in Manaus.The Sambodromo there can hold up to 100,000 people which means the UFC anticipates breaking their attendance record of 55,000 set at UFC 129 in Toronto.
"The opportunity to bring the UFC to Manaus and to the home of some of our great fighters makes us so excited. Our expectation is that Manaus will set a new attendance record, with 100,000 people watching the show." said UFC Co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta.
If the UFC can get that anywhere near that number of fans at that location, this shall go down as the greatest live atmosphere and event in combat sports history and another step towards the rapid growth of MMA.
UFC 129 was the first UFC event in Toronto setting an attendance record for the organisation at 55,724 attendees. Such was the success of this event that at UFC 140 the organisation is returning to the city and is another step in their expansion across Canada.
The UK continues to be a great destination for the UFC and the next event is planned for UFC 138 in Birmingham. The UFC also continues to hold events in Germany as recently as November 2010 at UFC 122. The Middle-East got its first action of the world leader in MMA on April 10th, 2010 in Abu Dhabi UAE and events are being planned in the near future.
The UFC had its first event down under in Australia at UFC 110 in Sydney on 20th February, 2010, and it was such a massive success; the second quickest sell-out and the merchandise sale record. This led the UFC to return to the same venue for UFC 127 on 27th February, 2011, which along with UFC 115 became the fastest selling event emphasising the demand and passion for the sport in this area.
The global expansion of the UFC looks set to grow into new markets such as China, India and the rest of the world in the near future, signalling a very bright future for MMA to say the least.