The year of The UFC has been 10 years in the making. When Dana White and his long-time friends Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta acquired the crumbling business in 2001 for a mere 2 million dollars, they set off to build one of the most iconic and valuable brands in the World. Through a series of well executed ideas and a renewed dedication to tweak and fix their strategies every step of the way, the company has established itself as a leader in the fight business, engulfing all other fight promotion companies in its path and introducing MMA to the mainstream.
What started out in 1993 as a competition to establish which martial art was best amongst savat, karate, sumo wrestling, jiu-jitsu, boxing, kick-boxing, wrestling and Tae Know Do has evolved into a contest between fighters who purposefully train in a mix of martial arts to gain a competitive edge. The goal is simple, knock your opponent out or get him to tap under threat of a broken limb and win. The purest one-on-one fight competition is much more sophisticated than one might suspect and as such, it is the ‘Chess of Sports’.
The purest one-on-one fight competition is much more sophisticated than one might suspect and as such, it is the ‘Chess of Sports’.
While the UFC is a private company, it remains rather transparent about the process of entering the sport through its competition The Ultimate Fighter. Introduced in 2005, the reality show follows 16 contestants who fight to emerge as a finalist and start their UFC career. The format of The Ultimate Fighter has been aggressively fine tuned over the years to present a more holistic portrait of the participants as well as an interesting look at the coaches who are all experienced veterans of the UFC.
The competition is real and demanding as the participants will have to fight 3 times in the span of a month, avoiding injury, to land a spot in the finals, a mere 2 months after the show’s taping. However, it has become obvious that the fighting premise is not so clear cut. The outcome for fighters is immensely dependent on their ability to put up with the disruptive living arrangements while landing a good coach in the initial pick. Georges St-Pierre famously beat Josh Koscheck in 2010 executing the best strategy of fighter and fight picks shutting Koscheck’s members out of the finale competition. Others saw their efforts completely undermined by coaches such as Quentin Rampage Jackson, who added a complete incapacity to deal professionally with his rival Rashad Evans (season 10) to his apparent habit of napping through training (season 7). In this season of The Ultimate Fighter, Roy Nelson, himself the winner of TUF Season 10, brought incomprehensible strategies to the table that left his team underserved, puzzled and promted his boss, White, to call him, amongst less diplomatic things, ”The Ultimate Underachiever”. Yet, again, Roy Nelson and his casual attitude about training and fitness made quick work of Matt Mitrione winning by TKO in the first round during last weekend’s The Ultimate Fighter finale in Las Vegas.
For a growing number of MMA practitioners, the best entry-level opportunity is fighting in The Ultimate Fighter finale, a spot that can be obtained by winning three fights during the two yearly shows which culminate in June and December. However UFC president Dana White is watching very closely to see who has the ability to work consistently in the sport’s ever expanding list of events. The financial equivalent of a three-fight deal is available to those who will find a way to thrive through a communal living experience that tends to aggravate contenders’ issues with alcohol, anger management or personality disorders. Those who fare well during this testing period can also land fight opportunities and go on to work regularly in the promotions.
As a consistent watcher of The Ultimate Fighter since season 1, I enjoy the opportunity to watch the interactions between the contestants. They range in age from 20-35 and come from a very wide variety of backgrounds compared to professional sports. Though a majority will have a background in high-school or collegiate wrestling, many are now coming from the military. As someone who is very interested in how people mature to attain adulthood, I pay tremendous attention to the personal stories of the fighters. There is no MMA ‘job’ and as most fighters do not come from a privileged background their life is a constant struggle to balance making money with taking time to train and this results in a stressful cycle of hustling for work and sponsorships.
Two TUF finales took place this past weekend. In Sydney, Australia’s George Sotiropolous faced Ross Pearson in the finale of The Smashes, a competition that pitted U.K. against Australian fighters. What was most interesting about this series is that it completed at all. During the filming, many fighters were injured while others disregarded their confidentiality contract and disobeyed the rules by obtaining a cell phone from a neighbor to call their families.
MMA is a simple sport where language barriers do not matter. The UFC is capitalizing on its international popularity propelled largely by illegal internet downloads and taking over the world. UFC’s expansion plans are quite brilliant. In 2012, the show expanded by producing a local TUF competition in Brazil, a strong producer of talent for the company and one of the most populous countries in the world. TUF finales had become incredibly popular in the past 5 years as the opportunity to watch a full-fledged UFC even for free. The UFC abandoned Spike TV last year and expanded their agreements with FOX Sports to produce shows on Fuel TV and Fox TV creating a calendar that features events every few weeks, most of the year. This has allowed the show to travel consistently to markets they wish to develop like Europe and Canada.
Will we see a Canadian edition of The Ultimate Fighter? Hard to say how that could pan out. While there are a lot of incredibly talented fighters coming out of Canada, they all converge to one gym, Tristar in Montreal. Doing so might create a strangely incestuous lineup of contestants. However, Canada has produced many outstanding contestants for the American edition of TUF such as Calgary’s Krzystof Soszynski and the most recent TUF finalist Mike Ricci who trains in Montreal.
Aside from Dana White, the very visible and outspoken President of the UFC, the sport is championed by its very dedicated long-time presenters. UFC fights are commented by Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg. If you haven’t had the pleasure of seeing Rogan’s stand up work then you might remember him as the former host of Fear Factor, one of the first U.S. shows to pump up the gross factor. What is most impressive about Rogan’s work with the UFC is his incredible knowledge of the minutia of the sport. Not only does he comment on the work the fighters are doing, he is able to accurately explain what each fighter is currently facing and what they will attempt to do next… and why. On the other hand Mike ‘The Ticker Tape’ Goldberg recites interesting statistical tidbits in the holes Rogan provides for him. They are a well-matched team but unable to host every single event which has opened up a hosting position for Kenny Florian, an active MMA fighter who has hopped through four weight divisions in the past 10 years. Florian shares hosting duties with other UFC fighters who are stepping into commentating roles such as Rashad Evans, Shael Sonnen, Benson Henderson and Randy Couture.
In 2012, the UFC continued its saavy use of new media. While the company has always embraced social media early such as Facebook and Twitter, they introduced localized versions of their website going as far as to localize English and French for the North American and European markets. This also allows the company to dynamically control the content pushed in the same way that political campaigns target constituents. The UFC’s entire catalog of content is available to stream in various formats on their websites and mobile apps for Android and iOS.
UFC sponsorship has exploded in 2012 for the parent company and its fighters. Prominent brands such as Nike and Xbox sponsor fighters while mainstream brands such as Bud Light and Harley Davidson have completely saturated the octagon, overlays and fight-week events. The barrier for entry to an event remains expensive but they are frequently sold out rapidly as the sport is becoming sought after by people who generally do not consider themselves sports fans or, forgive the vintage expression: ‘meat heads’.
2013 will also likely be the year of the UFC.
With an ever expanding calendar of shows on many continents, UFC partner Fox Sports is currently testing out new filming equipment. Vision Research, a high-speed camera company that caters to the defense industry, has provided Fox Sports with a Phantom v642, a high speed digital camera that can capture up to 3,000 frames per second. The new technology premiered on December 8th when Benson Henderson defended his title against Nate Diaz in Seattle. The camera, mounted on a telescopic arm, was uniquely positioned to capture amazing shots of the action. Highlights of the fights showed in amazing high definition details how certain body parts we assume to be fixed, like the nose, become surprisingly floppy during a sideways punch to the head.
One of the most interesting developments in recent weeks is the announcement that the UFC will open a women’s division. UFC President Dana White, who had previously responded, ‘Never’ when asked about this possibility, has crowned Ronda Rousey Champion in the UFC’s newly created 135-pound bantamweight women’s division. Rousey won a bronze medal in judo in the 2008 Olympics and is the 135 pound division champ for Strikeforce, a promotion company that was acquired by the UFC last year. Rousey, who is undefeated in her professional career (6-0), will fight Liz Carmouche, a former U.S. Marine who has three more professional fights (7-2) in February 2013. There are less than 20 women fighters in the former Strikeforce lineup but White has committed to Rousey with an eight-fight deal opening the women’s division for many years.
Marie-Lynn Richard is a veteran Web entrepreneur and programmer who delivers Facebook promotions for agencies and large media companies and manages web presence for solopreneurs. As a devoted fan of the UFC since 2005, Marie-Lynn declared UFC bankrupcy in 2012, the first year in which she was not able to watch every single fight presented by the company. However, her dream of seeing the UFC in person came through when she attended UFC 154: St-Pierre vs. Condit in November.
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