Rise of Mixed Martial Arts

Mixed martial arts combat is a sport with an immense popularity that is still growing. This sport is also widely known as cage fighting, it is a full contact sport that allows fighters with different fighting styles and disciplines to compete. The popularity of this sport has increased from being an obscure and savage sideshow, to what it is now; a full blown mainstream and culturally iconic sport. There are various factors that contributed to the rapid and large growth of the sport. Since its early beginnings many companies and corporations have been established in the industry in order to meet the demands of fans all across the globe. Some of the more popular organizations within MMA include: Strike Force, UFC, Belator, Pride and WEC. MMA’s rise in popular culture amongst mainstream sports can be attributed to a variety of factors. Many enjoy seeing the mixture of styles and cultures in the octagon, others like for its highly competitive and extremely athletic nature.

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Some fans of MMA state that the violence and blood attracts them as they seek the thrill of knockouts and submissions. It is undeniable that MMA has edged out its place among the major sports due to its entertaining bouts and athletic showings. Mixed Martial Arts owes a lot of its success to Masterminds like Dana White, the current president and owner the UFC or Ultimate Fighting Championship. This organization is the most successful and recognized in the ranks of MMA. Thanks to the ingenuity and smart business management of White the UFC has become one of the most recognizable brands in sports and entertainment.

Having a successful organization such as the UFC within MMA has allowed for the sport to grow both in popularity and in profit. The athletes in MMA are some of the most recognized and admired athletes in the world, with legions of fans cheering them on. This MMA craze however, did not occur overnight. There were ingenious developments and business moves that had to occur in for MMA to become the sport that it is today.

The beginnings of Mixed Martial Arts competition can be traced to Brazil in the 1920’s with a sport known as “Vale Tudo” whose literal translation from the Portuguese language is “anything goes.” This sport was known as a combat sport with no rules except for the prohibition or weapon use, it was popular due to dangerous qualities and thrilling actions. From here the spirit of MMA and the UFC was born and adapted, from a renegade attitude that sought to please and satisfy the fans with a dangerous brand of sport. Vale Tudo or anything goes combat, was first seen in the United States when it was introduced by the Gracies, a family of mixed martial arts athletes who competed and dominated the sport in its early stages.

The Gracies have a prominent athletic combat history and are credited with creating the fighting style known as Brazilian Ju-Jitzu. America and world caught its first glimpse of MMA during the first Ultimate Fighting Championship tournament held in Denver Colorado on November 12, 1993. The tournament was broadcast live on pay-per view and was later released on video cassette. The format consisted of an 8 competitor tournament without weight classes, time limits or rules except for the prohibition of eye gouging and biting. The fights could only end by an opponent being knocked out, submitted or if the trainers decided to throw in the towel. The champion of the first tournament was Royce Gracie, he defeated Gerard Gordeu via submission with a rear naked choke hold and by doing so, took home a reported 50,000 dollars.

The UFC was first owned by Bob Meyrowitz who owned the company from its beginnings in 1993 and until he sold it for a reported two million dollars in 2000. During its initial stages the UFC and MMA as whole were not interested in being recognized, or being considered as legitimate sport. The owners and associates of organizations in MMA were unable to see the potential for the growth and popularity of the sport. They were more interested in turning in a quick profit, they did not recognize the huge economic potential of the sport, they could not imagine the UFC and MMA branching off into the many directions that it has. It is now associated with clothing apparel, food, soft drinks, fitness clubs, fitness equipment, film and a host of other ventures.

Studies have been conducted in order to understand not only the actual growth of the sport, but the spectator motivation behind the growth as well. There are various factors that determined the level of interest behind attending fans at MMA events according to various surveys here are some of the factors that contribute to the growth of the sport.

Aesthetic qualities (Milne & Macdonald, 1999 ), some MMA fans that are truly dedicated to possessing and understand the technical knowledge of the sport enjoy witnessing fighters with great mastery of the sport battling to establish supremacy in the octagon, skill is the appealing factor that draws this type of fan. These fans are more sophisticated in their judgment of the fight, they possess a deeper understanding than the fan that simply appreciates and is satisfied with a cheap thrill and the spilling of blood. Aesthetic qualities certainly appear to have contributed in the growth of the sport because as the sport grows skill and mastery becomes increasingly important for fighters in order to have success and fan appeal. The growth in popularity has created an influx of fighters attempting to enter the ranks of the sport, as this happens fighters already within the sport work harder to aesthetically please fans and promoters in order to keep their place within the organizations and the ranks of MMA.

Vicarious achievement (Wann, 1995), fans of MMA are able to somewhat dream and imagine themselves in the matches fighting and battling. Most fans are probably not avid fighters and do not train in the sport, nevertheless they gain satisfaction from seeing the action and stating opinions on what they would do if they were in that combat situation. They are able to share a moment with their favorite athletes and envision themselves in the octagon; this provides a thrill and a sense of excitement for fans that would otherwise be foreign to the concept of combat and fighting.

Socializing (Trail & James 2001), as with many other sporting events MMA functions are used as means or venues for socialization. It is not uncommon for friends and family to see MMA pay-per view events as an opportunity to spend and share time together as a group. Attending MMA events in person is also an opportunity to meet and interact with persons that have and share similar interests considering the demographics of gender, race and age that are involved. At smaller venues it is not uncommon for groups of ten or more to arrive together to cheer and share the experience together.

National pride (Lee 2002), In the Asian markets national pride played a considerable role in attracting fans to attend and watch MMA events. This has probably a lot to do with the history of martial arts in Asian countries like Japan, China and South Korea and it might also have something to do with the cultural philosophies of these countries which advocate the success of their population as whole. According to Lee national pride did not factor significantly in attracting American fans that instead choose to root for fighters in an individualistic manner. This also probably correlates with American values which emphasize individual rights and successes. This however has apparently begun to change as organizations like the UFC globalize the market and introduce fighters from different cultural backgrounds; fans are more likely to root for fighters that are of their same cultural and national origin.

Economic Factors (Guttman, 1986; Wann 1995), According to these authors combat sports like boxing and MMA provide fans an opportunity to wager and make money on bets, this adds to the excitement of the sport and fuels the popularity. In well-known gambling cities like Las Vegas, betting on MMA fights has become very popular, fans and gamblers can bet on various aspects of the fight. Creating excitement and indirect financial revenues allows the sport of MMA to become more interesting and more acclaimed amongst a different segment of the population.

Adoration ( Lee, 2006), This author claimed that many MMA spectators are captivated by some of these athletes who appear heroic and unbeatable. Considering the strong and sculpted bodies of many of these athletes and the brave performance they have inside the ring, it would not be erroneous to assume that they take on a hero like status in the eyes of many. Thanks to advertisement and complex marketing the heroic image of these athletes and fighters continues to increase and it results in a loyal following of fans that become much attached and interested in the sport of MMA.

Violence (Coakley, 2006), Since MMA is considered a sport that presents one on one combat; this is particularly satisfying to fans. MMA is a very violent sport; competitors enter fight with no protective. Their hands are barely covered by very small gloves, during a contest a spectator can expect to witness every type of body blow imaginable, as well as submissions and choke holds. This is undoubtedly appealing for fans that are seeking thrill and excitement, there is a section of the population that loves real pure unadulterated violence and MMA definitely delivers on that front.

Sport Interest (Funk et al., 2002), according to this author fans become interested in MMA due to the appeal and allure of the sport itself. These fans will also become very interested in and follow certain athletes and fighter they identify with. Considering that many fighters compete in different organizations, this is very important in the growth of the sport because it unifies the sport, if fighters have followers enjoy success while not being relegated to a single organization.

Organizational Interest (Funk et al., 2002), Unlike other mainstream sports like baseball, football, soccer and basketball where there are few leagues and many teams, MMA consists of over 100 organization that promote fighting events. Therefore organizations focus on becoming prominent, recognized and successful, because of this many fans form alliances and are loyal to certain organizations. The UFC for example, has an allegiance of followers that root for it as an organization and are dedicate to attending and watching their events.

Although it is true that there are many MMA organizations that contributed to the immense growth of the sport, none bears more responsibility for the success of combat sports than UFC. After struggling to stay afloat in the sports and entertainment market from 1993-2000, the UFC was finally sold to Zuffa, LCC headed by current president Dana White. Immediately after acquiring the UFC franchise changes were implemented in the sport. These changes occurred in and out of the octagon.

Organizers and leaders within MMA organizations sought to legitimize the sport in order to transform it from having a public perception of being a violent freak show into a legitimate mainstream sport, like The NFL, NBA, MLB or Boxing. In order for the UFC and for MMA to be taken seriously and to be approved as a sport by athletic commissions adaptation or rules were in order.

The UFC format for competition had changed it now boasted competition in five different weight classes, rounds, time limits, a list of over 30 fouls, and eight possible ways that a match could end. By adapting these rules and becoming sanctioned by athletic commissions in states all across America and the world the UFC and MMA were able to open doors and change the opinion of the public and of corporate sponsors. The improved image of MMA in the eyes of consumers and investors was really important because it helped remove a somewhat taboo label from the sport. It also made it socially acceptable to be a fan, a spectator, and investor and business partner with the UFC and other MMA organizations.

Currently sponsors are lining up to get a piece of the financial action; corporate logos can be seen in the octagon, in attire worn by the athletes and in broadcasts of fights. The corporate involvement of businesses and companies in MMA has boosted the economic profitability of the sport and it has allowed it to grow at an immense rate.

The UFC and MMA organizations in general have made a conscious attempt to participate in the sports entertainment market by providing the public with appealing championship and big name fights. They now command a good share of the pay-per view market by giving fans what they demand, in the sports world the public calls for action, drama and storylines. The UFC is aware of this and they organize title fights at least once a month these fight are filled with incentives for the fighters, these incentives financial and otherwise motivate them to perform in spectacular bouts.

Thanks to this the television ratings for MMA organizations have been steadily climbing. According to Kim, Andrew and Greenwell (2009) the UFC now boast better television ratings amongst key demographic groups than the NBA, NHL and MLB in 2006 the UFC established a single season record for the pay-per view industry by generating more than 200 million in the United States alone. The popularity of MMA and the UFC has been steadily increasing not only in America but in Asian countries as well, during the past ten years MMA has become the sport of choices of younger generations. Thanks to the advent of MMA organization like Strike force which was created in Japan in 1993 and K-1 also introduced in the same year but of South Korean origins. Having MMA organizations all across the globe adds to the television appeal and drama of bouts because it gives fans from all kinds of demographic and international origins an opportunity to cheer for one of their own. It creates an emotional bond and a nationalistic appeal and when this occurs fans are more likely to invest time in money in the sport, thereby spurting its growth.

Japan has one of the strongest and most productive economies in the world so it only makes sense that organizations within MMA would want to stake a claim that market. This is something that Strike Force has been battling to do since its creation while achieving great success. In 2002 for example, a Strike Force event managed to fill Tokyo National Stadium drawing in a reported 90, 107 fans. Another Example of growth of MMA in an Asian market was the purchase of the K-1 broadcasting rights by a South Korean broadcasting company for a reported 30 million dollars for a three-year contract.

According to Kim Andrew and Greenwell (2009) when compared to the relative broadcasting value of other sports such as MLB, the MMA has looked quite impressive for the price it commands in the market.

Today MMA is undoubtedly one of the most popular and fastest growing sports, both in fan appeal and also in financial and business aspects. The growth of MMA can be attributed to a lot of significant factors that contributed to make the sport the huge entity that it is now. A lot of credit must be given to Dana White and to the UFC for the involvement in the growth of the Sport. The UFC is in a great position, business wise it has taking some very aggressive decisions by obtaining sponsorships and partnerships with successful sporting, broadcasting and apparel companies. According to Mike Sager the UFC currently has a lot of projects in the works these projects are designed to promote the growth, not only of UFC but of MMA as a sport as well. Dana white is currently working hard to convince the State of New York to lift its ban on MMA, in order to open up one of the biggest markets in the world. Also Sager points out that there is currently on the market a UFC magazine, a best-selling UFC video game, UFC action figures, UFC trading cards and that nine UFC gyms will be opened this year in partnership with the founder of 24 hour Fitness.

Considering the great strides that the UFC has made it is safe to say that MMA has transformed itself in the eyes of sporting world, from obscure and esoteric to mainstream becoming a cultural phenomenon. MMA has managed to shed its taboo label as it was often called a “savage” or “blood” sport, it is now recognized and praised for the technical mastery and pure athletic ability displayed by the fighter. MMA is now considered a glamour sport, a sport that draws the interest of different and varied demographics, look at any UFC or MMA fight and you are likely to see people of all races and social classes, superstars and Hollywood A-listers are often spotted at these events. MMA is no longer a sport fighting for recognition; it is now a sport that holds its own against other sporting giants like the football, baseball, basketball and even boxing. MMA seems to fit right in with our modern contemporary culture, our culture demands fast paced action. It demands aesthetics and violence delivered with an artful mastery. It appears that MMA delivers that and more to the public. It is a sport that is tune with the demands of the viewing and paying public therefore, it is successful. It is however a very young sport and only time will tell if it will continue on its current path of success or if it will dwindle and disappear.

Works Cited

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