UFC 100 and beyond: no sign of a slowdown

On April 9, the UFC saw the tickets for its historic UFC 100 event sell out in record time.

The mad rush of rabid fans clamoring for a piece of UFC history indicates that mixed martial arts is a major sport that likely will not see any sign of slowdown – and that the UFC brand is the reigning king.

Currently, MMA is legal in 36 out of 44 states with athletic commissions. With ever increasing momentum, MMA continues its battle toward legalization in the remaining states such as New York and Massachusetts and the Canadian province of Ontario.

Despite the near-mainstream status it has attained, MMA has not completely exorcised the specter of its “dark days.” Some in the general public and even the media cling to the outdated image of savagery from the early days of the UFC. Major industry players such as Zuffa (parent company behind UFC) continue its ongoing effort to educate the public and key decision makers on MMA’s legitimacy as a professional sport.

While MMA still has a legion of political opponents, such as the New York state senator, Bob Reilly, an increasing number of enlightened public officials see the benefits of legalizing and regulating MMA in their states.

As the largest MMA organization in the world, UFC looks to continue its reign for the foreseeable future. Impressive PPV numbers and live event attendance figure, the stunning brand presence and following on Spike TV – these offer mere glimpses of the UFC’s status as the 800-pound gorilla.

To bolster its number one status, UFC will continue to attract a cadre of top level talent from across the globe.

UFC President, Dana White has declared his ambition to make MMA the biggest sport in the world – even bigger than soccer – and elevate the UFC brand to a new height in the process.

White’s plan for world domination is grandiose, but given MMA’s bright prospect in the US and abroad, one cannot blame White for his ambition.

Outside the USA and Canada, MMA thrives in the traditional strongholds of Japan and Brazil. As UFC’s recent success in UK attests, British MMA market looks to continue its red hot streak. Elsewhere, the sport sees a dormant albeit slowly growing market in mainland Europe, Australia, and parts of Asia.

UFC’s nascent overseas expansion will continue into the future. Well-aware that each new market presents a unique set of challenges, UFC has expressed its willingness to march on steadily, one market at a time.

On the domestic front, Strikeforce and Affliction will remain potent rivals of UFC. Currently, neither promotion comes close to dethroning UFC; also, Affliction’s financial viability has been called into question. Nonetheless, a glance at the two promotions’ track record indicates that UFC has good competition on hand that will provide the incentive to strive for quality in its endeavor.

As the dominant force in the current balance of power in the MMA world, UFC wields considerable influence. The coming years will see how the manner in which UFC exercises its power impacts its sustenance and the sport as a whole.

Notably, considering that UFC has had a track record of insisting on running things as it sees fit, its headstrongness may result in detriment to the sport of MMA.

World Alliance of Mixed Martial Arts (WAMMA), a sanctioning organization for professional MMA founded in 2007, has sought to unify rulesets and rankings across different organizations. While WAMMA has earned the cooperation of a number of major MMA promotions around the world, UFC has never recognized WAMMA’s legitimacy or expressed interest in cross-promotion of any sort.

If the discord between UFC and WAMMA is any indication, it hints at the possibility of inter-promotional rifts that will threaten the sport.

While UFC’s is the premier destination for fighters from across the globe, the organization’s ability to attract top talent in future will hinge to an extent on the palatability of the fighter contract. With regards to its contractual stipulations, UFC has met more than a few critics.

The contractual disputes between UFC Hall-of-famer Randy Couture and UFC, as well as the on-and-off negotiation between UFC and the number one heavyweight in the world, Fedor Emelianenko, have been well-publicized. Certain stipulations, such as the exclusivity clause that forbids fighters from competing for other organizations during their UFC tenure, and restrictions on sponsorship will no doubt alienate some fighters.

Leaning too heavily toward a “take it or leave it” approach to contractual negotiation can leave UFC with missed opportunities to sign coveted fighters. After all, fighters are the cornerstones of the sport – they captivate the fans with their dedication and fighting spirit.

Speaking of the fighters, the growth of MMA will spur continued evolution of its fighters. The future generation of fighters looks to be more well-rounded and athletic than ever before.

As fighters become more technically sound in all aspects of fighting, advantages in physical strength, size, conditioning, and overall athleticism will factor into a fighter’s victory.

Also, given the heightened level of skills of an average fighter, it will become increasingly difficult for fighters to simply pinpoint and exploit gaping holes in their opponents’ game. It is already clear that overwhelming ones opponent in any aspect of the fight will require skills on par with those of someone like Demian Maia: Maia, a world class Brazilian Jiu Jitsu practitioner and probably among the very best submission specialists in UFC, has amassed submission victories in all his UFC bouts against opponents who succumbed to his superlative Jiu Jitsu skills.

In the coming years, carefully developed strategies will assume increased importance: Formulation of strategies that carefully consider the stylistic match-up of a fighter and his opponent to flesh out a formula for victory will be the key.

An intriguing development in the wake of MMA’s newfound popularity is the proliferation of MMA gyms across the nation. In the coming years, a new generation of aspiring fighters will step into these gyms and start training as a mixed martial artist from day one – this is a marked contrast to the older generations of fighters that transitioned to MMA with a background in another combat sport, such as wrestling.

Immersion in the different aspects of MMA from the beginning, along with the young age at which one commences straining, bode well for the development of well-rounded fighters. By the same token, the singular focus on MMA may hinder a fighter from evolving beyond the “jack of all trades, master of none” plateau. Only future will tell how these fighters bred on MMA from day one will fare.

UFC 100 serves as an affirmation of UFC’s reign over the ever-growing kingdom of mixed martial arts. Like any king, UFC must exercise its power with caution and help foster the growth of the very sport that gives it an exalted status. At the very least, if the frenzy surrounding the ticket sale for UFC 100 is any indication, the future of MMA and UFC looks brighter than ever.

Tags: , , ,