Mixed martial arts, particularly the Ultimate Fighting Championship, has seen a surge in popularity in the last couple of years powered by the Spike TV reality show ‘The Ultimate Fighter.’ Before the sport found it’s way on cable television it was driven by the internet fueled by hardcore fans.
There was a time when getting mentioned by a mainstream publication was a hope, a mirage in the desert. Today mixed martial arts has caught the eye and gained the attention of the biggest news outlets and respected names in sports coverage.
“Some amazing things happened for the sport this week, the cover of ESPN the magazine, the cover of Sports Illustrated, playing so much on SportsCenter. It’s absolutely shocking and surreal,” UFC president Dana White commented Saturday night at the UFC 71 post fight press conference.
ESPN recently jumped on board the mixed martial arts bandwagon by showing highlights of the UFC 69 main event welterweight title bout between Georges St. Pierre and Matt Serra, but their coverage of UFC 71 was unprecedented.
“We knew this was going to be a big fight just from the weigh-ins.” The UFC president commented. “We had over 3,000 people at the weigh-ins for this fight.”
The UFC weigh-ins have become an event of their own. The fighters stepping on the scale for UFC 71 was broadcast live on ESPN News, YahooSports.com, NBCSports.com, as well as the UFC’s website.
‘The Ultimate Fighter’ and the UFC marketing machine have played significant roles in the sport’s recent exposure, but Dana White gave credit where credit is due. He credited the fighters. “The reason this sport is where it is right now is because of what you saw here tonight. These guys come out and they fight. There’s a lot of hype behind these fights, and these guys actually live up to the hype. That’s one of the million reasons we’re doing as well as we are and boxing is dropping.”
UFC 71 was announced as a sold-out crowd of 14,728 with live gate revenue of $4.3 million. The pay-per-view buy rate is expected to approach or surpass sales records for an MMA event.
Modestly, White stepped around the question of expected pay-per-view buys of UFC 71 saying, “This was a big fight. Chuck is not only the biggest superstar in MMA; he’s a superstar in the sports world period. What made this fight so interesting and exciting was Rampage Jackson was the last guy to beat him, so people wanted to see that fight. We’ll find out in a couple of days how many people wanted to see it.”
Asked about the widespread coverage of the UFC and ESPN giving the sport it’s just due, Dana White said, “It’s big. The sport has finally arrived…”