Point/Counterpoint: Has Ultimate Fighting arrived as a mainstream sport?

BY DI SPORTS STAFF | JULY 14, 2009 7:15 AM

The fight is front and center

Welcome to the mainstream, mixed martial arts.

Ultimate Fighting Championship 100 was dubbed as its sport’s biggest event ever. Yahoo! Sports, Fox Sports, and USA Today devoted extensive coverage to the July 11 festivities. All three websites had live blogs updating their thoughts and the events that ensued throughout the entire event.

Ultimate Fighting 100 was even previewed on ESPN as the top story of the night. Ultimate Fighting has arrived.

A sold-out crowd of 11,000 fans at Mandalay Bay Casino in Las Vegas shelled out an estimated $5.1 million at the gates, Yahoosports.com reports. That is good for the second-highest grossing event in the history of the sport. Those numbers don’t include pay-per-view purchases, and preliminary reports estimate nearly 1.5 million people bought the event. If those numbers hold true, it will be the most watched non-boxing pay-per-view match ever.

I was at Buffalo Wild Wings to watch the fights, and the restaurant was busier than I’ve ever seen it before. We went two hours before the event was scheduled to begin, and we still had to wait in line for a table. The place was packed with eager Ultimate Fighting fans ready to watch the event. During the brawls, downtown Iowa City looked like a ghost town, because everyone was inside paying close attention to the historic event.

The Ultimate Fighting is snowballing down the hill, picking up more and more fans every day. The sport is addictive. The sport is exciting. The sport is exhilarating.

Watching television Monday, I turned on ESPN’s “Mike and Mike in the Morning” and “First Take,” and both shows were devoting time to the Ultimate Fighting. Ultimate Fighting CEO Dana White was even on “First Take” to talk about the event and the direction of the sport. I have never seen White on ESPN before. Mixed martial arts is finally getting national media attention.

The sport may always have naysayers, the sport may always have controversy, but the sport is getting more media attention then ever before. Ultimate Fighting is becoming ubiquitous. All forms of media, such as TV, radio, online, and print, are giving Ultimate Fighting coverage.

The sport is officially in the mainstream.

— by Travis Varner

Ultimate Fighting DOA

Thanks mostly to the Ultimate Fighting and Dana White, mixed martial arts has become the fastest growing sport in America, but has it truly become a mainstream sport?

No. Not yet, but perhaps soon.

Unlike team sports, where one’s allegiance and support are derived from a sense of pride in the hometown team, individual sports such as the Ultimate Fighting need stars who transcend the sport and spark the interest of casual sports fans.

Think Michael Phelps, Tiger Woods, Muhammad Ali.

As of right now, the Ultimate Fighting lacks in the star category. The two most talented fighters in mixed martial arts are George St. Pierre and Anderson Silva, and both men are foreign born (St. Pierre is French Canadian and Silva hails from Brazil) and do not have the personalities to match their crowd-pleasing fighting styles.

The most marketable talent is undoubtedly Brock Lesnar, but unless his personality and style drastically change, he won’t be the man to take the Ultimate Fighting into unquestionable athletics legitimacy.

As far as talent goes, he lacks the technical ability to impress sports purists, relying almost entirely on using his giant frame to force opponents to the mat and then clubbing them into dreamland. Basically, he fights like a silverback gorilla. Not exactly the sweet science.

And then there is his personality. Clearly, Lesnar still believes he is in the World Wrestling Entertainment, because he has established himself as the premier heel in Ultimate Fighting (flicking off the crowd and bashing Ultimate Fighting’s biggest sponsor, Bud Light, will do that). Every sport needs a bad guy, but in order for a villain to operate at his fullest, it needs a hero to do battle against. Right now, that hero just doesn’t exist.

Or in other words, he’s George Foreman without an Ali to help define a sport.

In order to educate the public on the legitimacy of mixed martial arts, White needs to work overtime to keep the Ultimate Fighting in control of the sport, create viable rivalries that don’t end in total obliteration, and find someone who can bridge the gap between mixed martial arts die-hard and sports fans who are too squeamish or arrogant to see the beauty in the beatings.

— by Sean Morgan

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