It initially started on the fringes of combat sports, but in a relatively short period of time, UFC has blown into a multi-billion dollar phenomenon. It no longer attracts a niche segment, it seems like everyone’s getting in on the act. There’s even talk of Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather (considered the best pound for pound boxer) taking on Conor McGregor (the most famous UFC fighter, until recently undefeated).
Up until now, my loyalties have been with traditional boxing because of its long and rich history with amazing characters such as the recently deceased, and in the opinion of many as the ‘Greatest of All Time’, Muhammad Ali. Despite this, it’s hard to ignore names like McGregor’s.
So how has UFC managed to get so big so quick? Well it’s all down to hard work, shrewd business deals and savvy marketing in short.
During its infancy, UFC was touted as having no rules, and this gave it a bit of an illegal and controversial image, a bit like what went on in Brad Pitt’s Fight Club movie.
Although this concept was bad for business in terms of getting sponsorships, it attracted a lot of new fans. Once the fan numbers began to grow, new rules were introduced that outlawed some sickening maneuvers such as groin strikes, hair pulls, and ‘fish hooking’.
At the time, fighters like Ken Shamrock were considered the best in the business, before weight divisions were introduced. Shamrock made the most of his new-found fame and tried his hand at WWF (wrestling) where he was instantly recognizable by his distinctive MMA gloves which he wore whenever he was in the ring. This garnered him the image of a crazy wrestler who was also an out-of-control MMA fighting maniac!
As a result of Shamrock making waves in professional wrestling, this worked in UFC’s favor because out of curiosity, a growing number of wrestling fans turned their attention to UFC!
By the late 90s, UFC’s growth became a bit stagnant until the emergence of new names like Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell. By this point more people began to take notice. With things looking promising once more, Dana White and brothers Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta purchased the Ultimate Fighting Championship for a meager $2 million, and this paved the way for improved advertising revenues and mind-blowing sponsorship deals. Bookies also quickly hopped on board offering the latest odds, UFC betting at William Hill being a prime example.
Despite all this, UFC hit some financial troubles, and thanks to the return of Shamrock in 2002, the company avoided almost imminent bankruptcy. Since then, there’s been no looking back!
The concept of a brand new TV show called ‘The Ultimate Fighter’ was touted, which would see MMA fighters put through their paces, and the winner would walk away with a 6 figure contract.
The show finally hit the airwaves in 2005 on Spike TV and it proved to be a phenomenal success!
Pay-per-view figures were simply staggering, and Spike TV immediately planned two more series involving a growing stable of new faces including Nick Diaz, Frank Mir and Anderson Silva among others.
2007 saw UFC grow bigger than wrestling and boxing combined in terms of revenue generation, and no one could have imagined this a few years earlier.
UFC continued to recruit a wide array of individuals for its roster. Kimbo Slice (R.I.P) was a massive YouTube sensation at the time, and he ended up joining the UFC stable of fighters. Unfortunately, his professional record was nowhere near as impressive as his street fights.
2010 saw the merger between UFC and WEC (World Extreme Cagefighting) and this resulted in even more names gravitating towards the company including Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey. These two individuals helped UFC reach even greater heights. The concept of female MMA fighters was now being taken seriously, attracting even more fans, including casuals.
Rhonda Rousey enjoyed unparalleled success for more than 3 years until she met Holly Holm, who dethroned her. And this attracted even more attention to women’s UFC, meaning even more earning power for both UFC as a whole, as well as the individual fighters.
Conor McGregor is probably the best known UFC name at the moment due to his arrogance and at times bizarre behavior, and thanks to him, UFC has become popular on both sides of the Atlantic.
Despite both McGregor and Rousey experiencing defeats in their last fights respectively, they still carry the torch for UFC. Any future replacements will have their work cut-out no doubt.