Mixed Martial Arts, “ultimate fighting,” “cage fighting,” or whatever you want to call it – is no longer a dirty little secret.
MMA (official term), has exploded into the mainstream and can no longer be ignored. Gone are the days when the competition prompted US Senator John McCain (R-AZ), to call the sport “human cockfighting.”
There is no longer a television ban on the sport for violent content. Promoters have stopped moving from state-to-state to avoid regulation by athletic commissions – to embrace rule changes and sanctioning.
MMA integrates different fighting styles like kick boxing, wrestling and karate into one seamless form.
The brand name “Ultimate fighting,” made is American debut in Denver, Colorado in 1993, with the Ultimate Fighting Championship. It was touted by its owners, SEG Entertainment, as having no rules, weight classes or time limits and fights were contested inside an eight-sided chain-link cage. Martial arts masters thrust themselves into combat to try and answer the age-old question of which martial art was the best.
Quickly, however, images of a thin French kick-boxer kicking the face of a falling 600-pound Sumo wrestler – launching the wrestler’s tooth into the first row – became the images associated the competition. Red flags went up faster than a high school color guard.
UFC was eventually chased out of Colorado and continued to travel around smaller US markets like Iowa, Mississippi, Louisiana, Wyoming and Alabama. Ultimate fighting was now an outlaw – barely existing.
To survive, the UFC began to work with athletic commissions adopting rules like the addition of gloves, striking limitations, weight classes and time limits. But full-fledged sanctioning was a long way away.
The UFC was finally able to gain sanctioning by the New Jersey State Athletic Commission, but the battle left SEG on the brink of bankruptcy.
Dwindling, SEG was approached by Station Casinos executives and brothers Lorenzo and Frank Ferttita and boxing promoter Dana White. The trio was called Zuffa (Italian for fight or to scrap), purchased the UFC – for a paltry $2 million, and took control in 2001.
Soon after, Zuffa got to work on gaining the full acceptance of athletic commissions, particularly the Nevada State Athletic Commission. Lorenzo Ferttita was a former member and helped shape the new UFC.
The new UFC concentrated on marketing its participants as real athletes instead of martial arts freaks and bar brawlers.
That image was further solidified when in 2005 the UFC entered the reality-TV business with The Ultimate Fighter. A format similar to Survivor, but in instead of being voted off, players that lose in real MMA bouts are sent home. The winner of the show receives a six-figure, three-fight contract with the UFC, as well the title of “Ultimate Fighter.” The TV show airs on the male-oriented cable network Spike TV.
For the first time, US audiences were able to look inside what it really takes to be a MMA athlete, and saw real athletes training hard and respecting each other.
Sports gaming leader BoDog.com has also entered the MMA promotion business, with its own reality TV show and fight franchise – BoDog Fight.
The popularity of UFC and – MMA has skyrocketed. The UFC was attracting over 150,000 pay-per-view buys in the US in 2002 and that number has since soared.
On May 26, 2006, the event UFC 60: Hughes vs. Gracie featured Royce Gracie, who was the organization’s first champion back in 1993, generated $23.97 million in pay-per-view revenue alone for his battle with then champion Matt Hughes.
Boxing has even recognized the potential in marketing to this audience. Sylvester Stallone’s upcoming film Rocky Balboa recently sponsored a live UFC event held on free cable. Coincidentally, the event was held at a US Marine base in San Diego.
Ultimate fighting has cleaned-up its act and TV has brought it into our living rooms. Media coverage only seldom recalls those dark ages choosing now to highlight technique and portray the competitors as educated, family oriented individuals – a far cry from the blood thirsty circus act that was reported only a decade ago.