UFC Mirrors NBA and NFL Rise to Mainstream With Strikeforce Purchase

March 13, 2011

UFC president Dana White

UFC president Dana White

Zuffa, LLC has put themselves in a position to run the table.

Strikeforce, the widely considered number-two MMA promotion on the planet, was recently bought out by the UFC’s parent company. News broke of the purchase on Saturday morning.

What has began is a debate on whether or not Zuffa owning the majority of the talent-heavy fight leagues is a good thing. Some look at it as a monopoly in the making – which it is well on its way to being – and some critics tend to frown upon there being a big fish in a small pond.

But what is so wrong with that?

What most people who follow mixed martial arts can agree on is the hunger to see the sport become as accepted by the mainstream as the premier leagues of other sports, such as the NBA and NFL. Zuffa’s acquisition of Strikeforce is another step towards that direction.

By purchasing their only remaining form of high caliber competition, Zuffa has widened the gap between the UFC and any other promotion that promotes themselves as being considered a professional league. The only other fight company that comes close to the UFC now is Bellator, and before the purchase of Strikeforce was announced, they were a distant third place.

By having two brands competing for the top spot in in mixed martial arts, it made it difficult for the casual fan to identify MMA since they were being pulled in more than one direction.

“Let’s face the facts, Strikeforce is a brand that fans have come to like,” UFC president Dana White told MMAFighting.com. “People enjoy the fights that they are putting on.”

Now, the UFC has all the selling power that Strikeforce’s brand was carrying in 2011, and Zuffa will reap all the benefits from the people enjoying those fights.

The UFC president has made it clear that Strikeforce will continue to operate as a completely separate entity, but if history has taught us anything, the San Jose, Calif. based promotion will not operate independently for long. Intentions to merge the WEC with the UFC were denied for years, but that all changed in late October when that merger became official.

Pride was also intended to run as its own entity after Zuffa purchased it in 2007. Obviously, that did not happen.

The UFC’s parent company executed a move similar to what the other major sports leagues did as they were growing and becoming the main attractions they are today. The NBA, for example, had major competition in the late 60s to mid 70s in the form of the ABA or American Basketball Association. In August of 1976, the NBA – which was considered the more prominent of the two leagues – bought out and dismantled three of the seven ABA teams and absorbed the Nets, Pacers, Spurs, and Nuggets. Since then, the NBA continued to expand and ultimately became the top destination for professional basketball to be played world wide. Players like Moses Malone, Julius Erving, and George Gervin were now part of the National Basketball Association, and would move on to become Hall of Fame inductees.

By eliminating their competition, the UFC has the potential to strengthen its marketability with an even deeper talent pool headlined by names like Emelianenko, Overeem, and Mousasi. This move mirrors what the NBA did in the Summer of ’76, capitalizing on its competition’s biggest assets.

The NFL also dabbled in the absorption game when they consumed the AFL in 1970. In doing so, the NFL kept its moniker and expanded to 24 teams, becoming the elite professional football league in United States. The USFL tried to give the NFL a run for its money in the 80s, but they ultimately folded, opening up the door for players such as Herschel Walker to move on to the NFL and have stellar careers with more exposure.

Like Walker’s move from the USFL to the NFL, talents like “Jacare” Souza could move into a position where they get more publicity and deeper divisions to show how dangerous they can be.

Another perk stemming from Zuffa’s purchase is the addition of Strikeforce’s video library. The UFC now has nearly all the footage of almost all relevant fighters in mixed martial arts today. The growth of their video vault gives the UFC all the more reason to, one day, do what the NFL and NBA have done and launch a league dedicated cable and/or internet channel. The NFL Network and NBA TV have become jewels to their their leagues. The UFC has strengthened their chance to have the same jewel and bring exposure on a 24-hour basis.

The UFC is following the same footsteps the NFL and NBA made when they were working to become accepted by the mainstream. Now, the NBA is garnering more top-ten highlight reels than it has ever had, and the NFL has arguably surpassed Major League Baseball as the most popular sport in North America. In climbing to these positions of mainstream acceptance, both leagues have faced competition and absorbed the opposition to the fullest extent of the word, ultimately securing themselves as the premier organizations.

The sport of MMA is young. It will continue to grow and likely get to the point where “UFC” will be the letters you see on the tab you click at your favorite sports website. You do, after all, click on “NBA” and “NFL,” not “basketball” and “football.”

These leagues have dealt with their criticisms. The UFC is no different and it will have its naysayers. It seems pretty clear that Zuffa’s lucrative MMA promotion is on its way to being the NBA’s and NFL’s equivalent. With the UFC heading towards monopoly status, some begin to worry about the promotion having too much power. When the other sports leagues grew large enough, athlete unions formed to bring balance. As imminent as the UFC’s hold on the MMA world is, perhaps the forming of a fighter union is equally as imminent. And maybe, just maybe, necessary.

The game has, indeed, changed. Is it for the better or for the worse?

Editorial by Erik Fontanez. Erik is a staff writer for MMAWeekly.com.
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