After a successful weekend in Manchester, England for UFC 105, the UFC will look to continue its growth around the world. In the last year, the UFC has traveled to Canada, England, and Germany, but plans to take the sport to countries such as Italy, France, Australia, and even Abu-Dhabi (the capital of the United Arab Emirates) in the near future. This a very smart and ambitious move for the UFC and could prove to be the groundwork for a global phenomenon years down the line.
This past weekend’s fights were received very positively by the U.K. fan-base; they see that the UFC has been growing steadily for the last few years. The sport of mixed martial arts was very new to the British fans when the UFC first came over, but a few short years later, it has become one of the more popular sports in the country with local stars such as Michael Bisping and Dan Hardy leading the way. Earlier this year, the UFC flagship program, “The Ultimate Fighter” featured a season where it matched up U.S. Fighters against U.K. Fighters, a first for the program. In the end, it was the U.K. who came out on top, showing the kind of effect that expanding globally can have on not only the bottom line as far as dollars for the UFC, but also on their roster of fighters and worldwide talent. UFC president Dana White summed up the road the UFC has traveled in England so far:
“I came here six or seven years ago to try and kick start mixed martial arts in the U.K.,” “When I came over here, nobody knew what it was. There really wasn’t any talent over here. In just six or seven years, we pack a stadium like this tonight.” (With 16,693 spectators packed into Manchester Evening News Arena, UFC 105 became the highest-attended European event in the history of the UFC. )
White also added:
“The other thing about tonight that blows me away is how educated the crowd was, how educated the fans here in the U.K. have become. When guys get side-control and the guy gets back in full-guard, they start cheering. They’re very educated in the ground game. They’re very educated on the fights. It’s amazing how fast this country has come around.”
The UFC will look to bring its brand of fighting to other countries the same way it introduced it here in the United States. Through its reality show, The Ultimate Fighter, the UFC will put on regional versions of the show and is actively trying to work out T.V. deals that will put the UFC into millions of new homes.
“My job is over the next 10 years, the same game of soccer that we play in the U.S. is the same game they play in Canada, Mexico, Spain, Italy, France, etc., and that’s what we’re doing with mixed martial arts right now,” White said. “Everywhere you go all over the world, it’s the same sport, and everybody plays by the same rules. We’re trying to get these television deals in all these countries, major TV deals exposing the fans to it, then you bring a live event to those places. Then the virus spreads and people start training at it, trying to make a living at it, eventually becoming professional athletes. That’s what we’re going to do over the next 10 years.”
“How do we plug this whole thing in with television and how to watch it everywhere? We’re trying to figure that whole thing out and build that now. But the groundwork for this thing is ‘The Ultimate Fighter,’ and we’ve been working it very hard, and we’re making it happen. ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ is going to be all over the world. That’s the goal.”
The list of possible regions for the UFC to explore is endless, as martial arts and fighting in some form, is kind of a universal language. Expansion hasn’t been totally problem free, however. White, and the UFC have faced challenges in the past when trying to come into a new market or country. When they went to Germany for the first time earlier this year, they were received well by fans, but country officials were deeming the sport too brutal or dangerous and opposed what the UFC was trying to do. This stigma that the UFC carries is mainly from its beginnings as a no-holds-barred fight sport in the early 1990’s before White ever stepped foot into the company and changed it from top to bottom. I think this is really the only thing that could slow down the UFC’s quest to enter new markets as some local government officials could try to ban it, but the UFC has a team of public relations experts that I would have to believe is up to the task. I think that White is the kind of person who won’t rest until his company’s goals are accomplished, and that 10 years from now, we will see unprecedented growth from this sport internationally.
One last quote from Dana White, because as you start to follow the UFC, you will see that he comes up with some interesting (to say the least) things to say.
“Randy Couture fought in the U.K. tonight and got a [expletive] standing ovation. People went crazy for this American. You don’t ever see that [expletive], and you haven’t seen that since the Mike Tyson days. People are feeling that way all over the world about lots of guys, whether it’s Wanderlei Silva, Anderson Silva, the guys from the U.K., a Canadian. [Expletive Georges St- Pierre] is going to fight Dan Hardy. ‘GSP’ got a warm ovation from the crowd. You don’t see that [expletive] in any other sport. So, there’s a lot of potential globally here to do some cool [ expletive].”
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