In many ways we’ve come along way since the Ultimate Fighting Championship was launched back in November of 1993. In recent years Mixed Martial Arts has, in the United States at least, begun to reach an increasingly mainstream audience. The historic UFC 100 event was a turning point. Covered by many of the major networks in the states it brought in an estimated 1.7 million pay per view buys – a number that sees it rubbing shoulders with the biggest boxing PPV’s of all time.
Fast forward a few months and YouTube sensation Kimbo Slice has sent the viewing figures for the latest series of The Ultimate Fighter reality show to new heights, with some 6.3 million viewers tuning in to see his fight with Roy Nelson.
Meanwhile one of the sports biggest names Chuck Liddell has just finished a four week stint on the hit ABC show ‘Dancing With The Stars,’ whilst also finding time for a guest appearance on the longest running and most successful cartoon series of all time, ‘The Simpsons’ in an episode based around the sport.
To cap it all off, Dana White recently guaranteed that within the next year the UFC will be on network television in the U.S.
Whilst there are still barriers to break down – some states like New York for instance, have yet to sanction the sport, MMA is well on it’s way to establishing itself as a mainstream sport in the U.S.
In other countries around the world, there is more work still to be done.
Though the first UFC event in the United Kingdom occured back in July 2002, it wasn’t until UFC 70, some five years later, that it became a regular destination for the promotion. Since then the sport has certainly grown in the UK. Events are now broadcast live on ESPN UK, whilst mainstream station Channel Five airs ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ series and shows highlights of key UFC events.
Despite this the UK shouldn’t be seen as keeping pace with their U.S counterparts in terms of mainstream acceptance just yet. Though popular newspapers such as The Sun and The Telegraph now cover the sport, some are still trying to get their head around the idea of mixed martial arts, as can be seen in articles published in The Daily Mail and The Guardian in the past week.
Others, such as The Guardian’s Martin Kelnar, are quick to mock, and offer uneducated opinions:
“With the best will in the world, cage fighting does look ridiculous. I am sure you have to train hard and be extremely fit…but, especially at the lower weights, it just looks like a fight in a school playground.”
It will take more time before for the MMA is fully understood and appreciated in the UK. Even in Brazil, a hot-bed of mixed martial artists since the early days of the UFC when Royce Gracie reigned supreme, there is still work to be done. Despite modern day stars like middleweight champion Anderson Silva and light heavyweight belt holder Lyoto Machida climbing to the very top of the sport, only now are they starting to gain the respect and recognition that they deserve.
Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua, who will fight his fellow countryman Lyoto Machida for the light heavyweight title later this month, recently stated in an article for SI.Com:
“People are understanding the sport more. We’re getting more famous and recognized in Brazil. We used to get greeted much more abroad. Now it’s starting to get even in some sense. I think people are beginning to respect this as a profession, as a sport. In the past when you said you were a fighter, people made faces.”
Though there are still obstacles to overcome, countries like the U.K and Brazil are further along the path to acceptance than others who have yet to experience the sport on a large scale.
Take Australia for instance. With the news that the UFC will be arriving on their shores next year, the mainstream media are already up in arms at the prospect and busy digging into their book of cliches.
“Cage Rage Coming Here” the headline in the Sydney Morning Herald warned just a few days ago. “The sport described by critics as “human cockfighting” is coming to a stadium near you, despite warnings that US-style cage fighting will fuel more violence on the city’s streets.”
Having fought through the same ill-informed articles before in other countries (In their first trip to Germany in June, an article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, one of the countries leading papers, stated that everything is legal in MMA except for biting and gouging), such headlines will not come as a surprise to the UFC. It has largely become accepted as an inevitable by-product of their expansion plans, and they are becoming increasingly aware of how to deal with it.
They know from past experience that regardless of how the media portrays the sport, almost everywhere the UFC goes they fill venues and regularly set attendance records. As Dana White himself says, they have only scratched the surface of how big this sport can become.
Take Mexico for instance. When the UFC secured a TV deal with Grupo Televisa in time for UFC 100 they were met with instant success as some 25 million people tuned in to see the event. With up and coming fighters of Mexican descent like Cain Velasquez and Efrain Escudero on their roster it is only a matter of time before there is an event held in the country.
Other locations around the world will soon follow. “We’re going everywhere” Dana White says. “When I say everywhere, I mean everywhere. We’re mapping out next year right now. Figuring out the dates, we’re gonna go to a lot of new places. ”
In many of these places they will meet resistance and have to break down barriers. The belief however is that as mixed martial arts continuing to grow in popularity around the world, we will eventually reach a point where it will come to be accepted by the media around the world for what it is – not as ‘cage fighting’ or ‘ultimate fighting,’ but as a legitimate sport, just the same as basketball, boxing or badminton.
Article By Ross C.
Pictures courtesy of sherdog.com