by Steven Marrocco – MMAWeekly.com
Education has been a goal and a stumbling block in the UFC’s expansion across the globe.
UFC 99, the promotion’s first trip to Germany, came with controversy and left with little fanfare. The event was a sellout, with over 12,000 fans packing the Lanxess Arena, and there were no picket lines outside.
Several German newspapers ran with headlines from the Clinton administration: there were no rules, death was possible; the UFC signaled the end of civilized society. From the tone, few did their homework.
It seems no matter how much pre-event PR the promotion does, or the safety record it holds under its belt, education is an on-sight proposition. President Dana White has seen it so much, it gets little rise out of him.
“When we come into Germany and we know that people are a little worried about the product, it is what it is,” he said.
Obviously, there were no deaths or serious injuries on Saturday night. The majority of the fights (7 out of 12) went to decision. But there was some gore: Stefan Struve had his forehead split wide open by Denis Stojnic in their undercard bout.
Afterwards, several German media outlets focused on the bloody fight, and the violence of the sport. Others examined the fans who attended the event and the production values of the show.
“Whenever a guy gets cut, if we’re in Germany, we can’t go ‘oh my God,'” countered White. “It’s gonna happen. It happens in boxing. It happens in contact sports. The bottom line is, we came into Germany and let the people here know that this is a real sport with real athletes – these guys are great people, we’re not barbarians – this is a sport.”
Given time, White expected attitudes to change about the sport.
“We had the same thing in the U.K. and now the U.K. guys are here bashing the Germans,” he said, laughing. “We have to educate people. When they get to know the fighters, know the sport, everything changes. The important thing is we got our first event off here in Germany. From here it’s gonna spread.”
The U.K. is certainly a case study in the expansion effort. While promotions like Cage Rage, Ultimate Warrior Challenge, and Cage Warriors laid the foundation for the sport’s growth, the addition of a UFC office in London and regular events held across the country have accelerated it. The ninth season of “The Ultimate Fighter” is about to wrap up, featuring a bevy of promising English fighters.
As it was for American audiences four years ago, exposure remains the key factor in increasing the sport’s popularity.
“I think this show was very successful and I think you’ll see here in Germany, just like the U.K.,” said White. “After we come in and do a live event, it starts to spread and I think you’ll see a lot more people training here in Germany. You’ll see a lot more fight teams popping up… just like it was in the U.S. and Canada, the U.K., Ireland, and now Germany.”
The UFC has several international territories in its immediate sights: France, Australia, Toronto, Ontario; domestically, there’s Oregon, Oklahoma, New York, Massachusetts, South Carolina, Michigan, and others.
There will be more resistance, but given the promotion’s track record for breaking barriers, expansion prospects look good.
“We’re moving fast,” White said. “We’re moving faster than I thought we would.”