When it comes to attitudes about the growing popularity of MMA, I consider myself a moderate. Most of us that visit MMA sites like this one are hardcore fans and can even remember being fans back in the mid-90's when hardly anyone we knew were familiar with the sport. I'll confess that I never expected to see this whole thing blow up the way it has. From landing on the cover of Sports Illustrated and ESPN the magazine to reaching over 1 million pay-per-view buys, I could've never dreamed that the sport would have reached the heights of popularity that it has. The rising tide of attention to the sport has increasingly benefitted the athletes as well. The top competitors used to top out at well below six figures per match. Now the stars of the sport can easily make several hundreds of thousands of dollars (when you factor in their cut of the PPV buys) per fight and some even make millions. I hate it when hardcore fans sound like indie rock snobs and selfishly cling to referring to MMA as "our sport", looking down their collective noses at fringe fans as if they're unwelcome. On the other hand, it wouldn't hurt my feelings one bit if MMA never got a bit more popular than it has been over the past few years. I think it's reached the perfect plateau. On my drive home this evening I listened to a local Charlotte area sports radio show and the subject matter was the rising popularity of MMA. A few callers expressed their certainty that MMA would soon pass soccer, baseball and basketball on the world sports scene and would compete with football on the American sports scene. As a longtime MMA fan, and an utter realist, I find statements like that ridiculous.
Combat sports have a ceiling as far as their popularity in our culture is concerned. There is a HUGE market for it in the 18-34 year old male demographic. However, in this culture where combat sports and even many forms of general competition are frowned upon by the cardigan sweater-wearing culture Nazis (I call this this phenomenon the "wussification" of America. Remember, sanctioning of this sport is still challenged routinely by certain politicians and interest groups), I don't expect it to ever surpass the mainstream team sports or even NASCAR in popularity. This Saturday many fringe fans and first time viewers will witness UFC 100. I already anticipate some complaints on Monday morning about how some viewers "didn't like when the fight went to the mat and didn't understand fighting from the clinch" or "didn't like that fighter x was knocked out so quickly". But you know what? That's cool. This sport is not for everyone and we shouldn't expect it to be. It's not even for most people. The good news for promoters is that the muliple millions of fans that MMA has worldwide are more than enough to keep it thriving. Anyway, that's just my take. Everyone enjoy the show tomorrow night. No matter what the results are there's going to be A LOT of fallout from the event to talk about next week. Can't wait.