How did MMA become a major sport?

Over the last year or so I have noticed the mainstream sports press now treat MMA almost the same as FB, baseball, NASCAR etc. Sports websites in particular give it a lot of space.

I am curious the reason for this - it seems they have even jumped past soccer in the US press. I can’t think of any other US sport that made this kind of jump in press coverage in such a short time. I’m not complaining, just curious.

FYI in case you don’t know MMA = mixed martial arts type of fighting. Also known as UFC, ultimate fighting championship.

It’s more or less taken the place of boxing. It’s “perfect” for many American sports fans as it is brief, brutal, and has personalities.

A lot of people make the claim that the first Bonnar v Griffin fight in The Ultimate Fighter 1 finale as the turning point for MMA, specifically the UFC. It was an incredible fight and ratings skyrocketed; Spike TV subsequently picked up regular UFC programming. Or so the story goes.

ETA: It’s worth mentioning that other mixed martial art competitions, like Pride and K2, have existed and been popular in Japan for much longer than America.

Boxing is still around but I guess it’s not as popular as it used to be. It seems to revolve around the the heavyweights and those guys are not very popular now.

Regulation allowed it to become an exciting, safe sport. It went from basically a street fight in a cage to a legitimate competition between finely-tuned athletes. A lot of people don’t realize there are now gloves, rounds, judges decisions, and over 30 fouls. It broke into the mainstream because it is simultaneously cerebral and thrilling. The simplest and most accurate way I’ve heard it described is “kinetic chess.” When compared to boxing, it’s like flying versus driving the go-karts at Disney Land that are stuck on that rail-- there are so many more dimensions. It is also seen as less corrupt than boxing, and the athletes are seen as more friendly, intelligent, and accessible than boxers.

PrideFC started a few years after the UFC and was bought by the UFC over 2 years ago. K1 is primarily a kickboxing organization, though they do occasionally promote MMA (now through Dream), it wasn’t until years after the UFC. K2 is a mountain :p.

The modern sport of mma is more or less a direct result of UFC 1. A few other arguments can be made, but not nearly as convincingly.

I don’t think it’s as mainstream as the OP suggests. The fights are shown on offbeat channels like Spike and Versus, not ESPN. It is barely covered at all on Sportscenter, the preeminent sports news show. The fights barely receive a mention in newspapers, if they do it’s a blurb, not a story.

I think the fans are very dedicated and talk amongst each other a lot, and it seems like everyone loves it to them.

Really, it is nowhere close to the major sports in terms of coverage. Soccer received front page coverage this summer during the Confederations Cup and the recent USA-Mexico match (a front page story and a color photo in the Denver Post here.) I’m pretty sure the Denver Post has never sent a reporter to a big MMA fight.

I agree that it has blossomed in popularity recently, but lets be realistic.

I’ve never seen an MMA fight broadcast on ESPN, but the commentators were discussing Couture/Nogueira this weekend. It’s certainly mainstream enough that the middle aged, Midwestern soccer mom in the break room knew what I was talking about when I mentioned to someone else in a conversation that I watched the fight this weekend. She even knew who some of the fighters were. I’m not sure if this woman is an MMA fan, or if this is something she’s only come to know of recently because of its growing popularity, but my guess is five years ago had I mentioned the name Nogueira to her, she would have said, “What is that? Some kind of Mexican food?”

It’s certainly nowhere near what boxing USED to be, and not even in the same universe as football or baseball. It’s not even close to tennis. And I don’t think it will ever reach the heights boxing once did.

But it’s at least become a reasonably popular second-tier sport, and so it’s an interesting question. I think the answer, simply put, is that boxing killed itself. Had boxing not fallen apart there’s no doubt in my mind MMA would never have become anything more than a sideline, like kickboxing used to be. But boxing has destroyed itself in a two-decade inferno of stupidity, so there was a big vacuum where another fighting sport could slide in, and MMA came along at just the right time.

I could never figure out why boxing put all their big matches on PPV , making people pay $50 to see them. I guess it made them a lot of money but it also shut out many fans.

Versus is no ESPN, but it’s a pretty big sports network now, they carry the NHL and college FB.

It appeals to the many people who like the action in pro wrestling, but still would rather watch a real sport.

:dubious: I know tennis is big in Europe, and a couple of the meets are a big deal, but the UFC is selling out 10,000+ seat arenas and doing hundreds of thousands (sometimes over a million) pay per view buys every month. And every event is covered fairly extensively by the mainstream media now. You may not see it, but it is. When I look at sports on my phone now, there’s an MMA link. I have no problem believing tennis is bigger, especially worldwide, but it’s not “not even close.”

Boxing never even dreamed it could be as big as MMA will be.

To me, the appeal is the strategy and pureness of competition. I tend to like stripped-down, single-person sports. I get fanatical about the Olympics but I don’t give a damn about football, baseball, soccer, hockey, etc., and it’s not because of nationalism.

I see they are following the boxing route of going with PPV events.

Who knew Cisco was really Dana White? :slight_smile: I love MMA, but it’s got a looong way to go before it reaches boxing’s cultural significance at its peak.

I think part of the perceived suddenness of MMA’s rise has been because of major outlets (ESPN, Yahoo, even newspapers) being late the party. It isn’t that in the last 12 months MMA has suddenly become popular–its popularity has been growing for years. But in the last 12 months or so, the coverage has caught up to the popularity, so to the non-fan it seems like suddenly MMA is everywhere.

As for why it has become popular? It’s a great sport, full of interesting matchups, and also there’s a bit of unpredictability to it. In boxing, a great champion is often undefeated or close to it with dozens of wins under their belt. In MMA, even the good ones have at least a loss or two if they’ve been fighting for any time at all. BJ Penn’s record is a rather pedestrian 14-5-1, and he’s considered one of the all-time greats. So when you tune in to see one of the great fighters, it’s not just to see him perform, but no matter who he is, you know you might see him lose tonight. Adds to the excitement.

Will be interesting to see if ESPN picks up the sport the next time their TV contract is up for bidding. They still show boxing, mostly on Friday nights.

I still think it is odd they show so much poker but I guess it’s cheap to show and they must get decent ratings for it to stay on this long.

Tell you what; if at any time in our lifetimes, any MMA star is as big a star as Muhammad Ali was, I’ll give you a thousand dollars. Because that’s never going to happen.

Boxing was once probably THE most popular individual sport in the world; in the first half of the 20th century it was easily the second most popular pro sport in the USA, behind baseball but well ahead of anything else. If MMA becomes more popular than any pro sport in the USA but one, that will be rather surprising. I can’t even imagine how or why that would happen.

It’s going to remain popular for a long time, but no, it’s not going to be what boxing once was. That was a golden age of fighting sport we’re just not likely to ever see again.

I will say this though; the evidence strongly suggests that MMA is, in fact, hurting pro wrestling as well as boxing. The WWE, while being quiet about it, is seeing substantial revenue declines. Clearly, many fans are switching from theatre to sport.

As to the issue of PPV, I’m not sure that’s a wise route for MMA to take, really. It’s hard to tell just what’s going to happen with respect to sports media, but I can’t help but feel that PPV was one of the (many) reasons boxing went down the tubes. I’m not saying MMA is going down the tubes - boxing shot itself in both feet, both hands, though the head and three or four times in the chest - but PPV seems to limit viewrship. There’s a reason the really big pro sports are all fighting for network TV contracts; it maximizes exposure. However, it’s a different business and sporting model, so maybe I’m wrong. MMA has set a lot of PPV records and with the media becoming so specialized, pay-as-you-go viewing just might be the future.

(Surprisingly, at least to me, the top PPV event of 2008 was still a boxing match. But seven of the top 10 were UFC events.)

I have nothing against MMA, but this is simply not true. MMA is not everywhere. You have to already know where it is or explicitly hunt for it.

I just checked my Sunday and Monday papers and there isn’t a single word about the fight this weekend. There is coverage of NFL, College, and High School football. There is golf coverage, a preview for the U.S. Open tennis tournament, the Little League World Series, and women’s college soccer. No MMA.

I’ve read a few places that kids now are less into the big team sports like hoops, baseball, football, etc. and more into newer sports so that probably helps MMA.

When I was a kid NASCAR was not very big and it was mostly in the SE. It took a while but it eventually got to be popular all over the US. Also it helped that open wheel racing ran into problems. I guess it’s possible that 24 hour sports channels have helped pave the way for more sports to be popular than in the past.

Might that have something to do with where you live? I’m in MN, and a lot of these MMA guys are ex-wrestlers (wrestling being LIFE in the Midwest), and I can hardly crack open the paper or [del]Shitty[/del] City Pages when a fight is approaching without seeing competing advertisements for what bar is showing the fight, drink specials, cover charges, etc. The bar I choose to watch the fights at when not watching at home just happens to be my regular bar, and charges no cover. Suck it, every place else!

Still, back in Los Angeles, where wresting is that thing on TV that Hulk Hogan used to do, I saw mention of upcoming fights in the papers fairly regularly.

Edit: Oh, I guess you may mean in the sports pages the following day. There was an article on the fight results in the Mpls Star Tribine.

How much longer is your lifetime? I’m only 28, so barring any accidents or deadly diseases, I could have another half-century in me. A lot can change in that time. A lot of older people find MMA too brutal, or don’t understand it, or are just not interested in picking up new interests at this point in their life. As they die off, though, they are being replaced with people for whom MMA holds absolutely zero stigma. It’s already huge in the United States, Brazil, Japan, and Korea (3 of those are in the top 10 largest countries in the world, and Korea isn’t exactly small), and it’s growing fast in Europe, Australia, Russia, Canada, and Mexico - 5 more huge markets. There is worldwide appeal. Basic hand-to-hand combat is one of the oldest, if not the oldest sport in existence. We know the ancient Greeks did it in organized fashion. It was at the first Olympics. And it’s probably far older than that. It’s not going to lose any popularity or appeal. Within the next few years, it will probably gain as many existing fans as it’s going to gain, but new fans are being born every day. Give it 20 or 30 years and it will be far, far bigger than boxing ever was.