A New Sport Favorite on the Horizon
The rising popularity of UFC
Ultimate Fighting Championships. UFC. The name itself sounds violent and overwhelming. Collections of martial arts masters step into a fenced ring in an effort to showcase their skills to a horde of screaming fans. An extreme, live version of modern day gladiators. Sounds more than a little intimidating and maybe it isn’t your cup of tea; but for thousands of Americans, including myself, watching the UFC fights is a perfect way to spend a Saturday night.
Though the UFC has a popular cable show called “The Ultimate Fighter,” professional matches are Pay per view. Would anyone actually pay to watch this and why? According to MMAPayout, an online article dedicated to the business behind the fighting, UFC produced an average of 31,000 fans back in 2009 with 11,000 of them claiming to be avid fans, numbers today can be estimated incredibly higher.
Interestingly, it was the only sport surveyed that experienced any real growth over a three year period.
Not only that, it’s managed to stack well competitively against other sport fan bases in the 18 to 34 year-old demographic, beating out NHL, NASCAR, MLS and standing toe to toe with the NBA.
Why is this important? According to MMAPayout, the 18 to 34 year-old demographic is important “because it is probably the most coveted target audience in the world. Those within the 18–34 demographic possess relatively high levels of disposable income and a demand for luxury goods, but also lack many of the serious financial or family commitments of other demographics.” In laymen terms, it’s where the money is. If a proper foothold is made, there’s an enormous prospect for growth and financial stability.
The stats are pretty impressive considering Cage Fighting’s debut 20 years ago in 1993. When cage fighting began, it looked a lot like fight club, sadly with a lot less Brad Pitt. Regulations were loose and sometimes were overlooked by both competitors, coaches, and promoters. It received a monumental hit in popularity when Senator John McCain, a former boxer, labeled the sport as “human cock fighting.” Fan bases plummeted and UFC was a dying brand. However, two brothers, Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta saw the potential for a comeback. After sinking 40 million into the brand and seeing little effect, they finally got a nibble when Spike TV offered to air a fight based reality show, “The Ultimate Fighter” (as mentioned earlier). According to Newsweek, “it helped UFC officials identify athletes with pull at the box office, who could then be signed and marketed for fights.” It was a financially advantageous way to recruit better athletes. Better athletes meant more invested viewers.
However, despite it’s growing popularity the negative stigmas and connotations about the sport persist, though to a marginally lesser degree. How did UFC attempt to eradicate these ideas? Stronger, more regulated codes of conduct for competitors. Matches needed to be safer. Don’t be mistaken, a fight is a fight is a fight, but how participants can fight is strictly monitored, “Eye gouging is a foul. You cannot put a finger into any orifice, cut or laceration. Groin attacks are out, as is grabbing the windpipe or stomping a grounded rival. One is not allowed to kick at the kidney with a heel or even to claw, pinch or twist flesh, as many small people do in the playground. In fact, rule No 22 forbids any unsportsmanlike conduct that causes injury,” Newsweek reports. As a personal account, I know female fighters in the amateur MMA fights here on the west side are required to wear shin guards in every match. Safety precautions much preferred over a basic dive bar brawl, as some have compared it to.
But what about outside the ring? Bloomberg Businessweek spoke of several domestic violence cases related to former competitors in UFC, “War Machine [a former fighter], who legally changed his name from Jon Koppenhaver, has been charged with 32 felonies including assault and attempted murder.” Another example was the Josh Grispi case saying he, “allegedly set his pit bull loose on his wife.” However, Bloomberg made it a point to get statements from the head of the Bellator fighting company, Scott Coker. “We have absolute zero tolerance for any kind of domestic violence by our athletes,” said Coker. UFC Senior Vice President Jackie Poriadjian put these extreme cases into perspective beautifully, “We are no different than any other sport. Some individuals will do things that don’t reflect well on our organization.” NFL, NBA, and MLB all have there own domestic violence scars. Bad people do bad things. It doesn’t matter the sport they play.
The past twenty years have seen a lot of changes in how things are conducted both in and out of the ring for UFC. If you’re still on the fence regarding your preference for the sport, why not hop into a Hooters or Buffalo Wild Wings one Saturday night. They air the fights for free. Dip your toes in and if you still don’t like it, at least you have a cold beer in your hand and the knowledge you gave it the old college try.