With The Ultimate Fighting Championship’s twentieth anniversary event rapidly approaching, the history of the organization and its path from sports’ greatest spectacle to mainstream acceptance has been a walk down nostalgia lane for many, while others are seeing the road to recognition for the first time.
Once banned from television, today the UFC is an international sports juggernaut with its own reality series, offices around the world, and events held on nearly a weekly basis.
For hardcore fans, the question was never if mixed martial arts would make it, but when? After the success of the first season of The Ultimate Fighter in 2005, the when was answered, and the questioned turned to, how big could the sport get? Will it ever be on the level of the NFL, MLB, the NBA or NASCAR?
UFC president Dana White believes the sport is beginning to receive the recognition of a major sport, but still doesn’t consider it mainstream.
“I think we’re starting to get there now,” said White on a recent media conference call. “I don’t think we’re mainstream yet. I really don’t. I know people disagree with me when I say that. But I think we’re starting to be looked at as one of the major sports now.
“If you look at what we’ve done on television, it’s pretty amazing, and our live events, what we do at venues. It would be tough to not call us one of the major sports,” added the UFC president.
The definition of mainstream may differ depending on who you ask. It’s not just having a longterm network television deal and generating advertising dollars from companies like Bud Light and Harley Davidson to White. It’s not just having athletes sponsored by traditional sports sponsorships like Nike, Reebok and Gatorade.
“To me, mainstream is when you walk down a street in any city anywhere and everybody knows what you are, and we’re not (there yet.)”