Why is the UFC so popular?
That is the question on everybody’s mind the past few years. What makes this combat sport so thrilling, intoxicating and something even casual observers are talking about at the water cooler on Monday morning? For starters, the creator and big boss-Dana White-cares about his fans as much as his fighters and sponsors.
Saturday night, UFC 196 elicited two major upsets. Two champions lost their belt and left the night looking up at another opponent celebrating instead of their own jubilation. This may lead some to believe that White would be truly upset.
Would he be upset that Holly Holm, The Preacher’s Daughter sensation and kickboxing virtuoso, lost to Miesha Tate, taking some of the sizzle off her reported rematch with Ronda Rousey later this year?
Would he be upset that his undefeated golden Irish war child, Conor McGregor, was upset by recent injured opponent replacement Nate Diaz?
The answers to both questions are no. This is what makes the UFC so great and endearing to millions across the world. White sets these fights up knowing that a new face could rise by the next morning. He doesn’t worry about upsets. White embraces the “what if’s” and “you never know’s” of his sport. The boldness of MMA fights in this UFC pulls fight fans like myself into the sport.
White knew that Holm would Rousey fits last November and that didn’t make him think otherwise when setting the two up for one of the biggest upsets in the sport’s history. When McGregor faced Aldo late last year, the Irishman’s reign could have ended right there and it didn’t, resulting in a stunning knockout 13 seconds into the fight. An ending that caused 100,000 different tweets across the world, resulting in another 500,000 retweets. Kids showed their best friends. Brothers and sisters gathered around. Husbands got their wives to watch the short vine like replay. By morning, the UFC had no fans.
The sport is brutal. Several fighters go into the ring whole and leave it shattered and broken. Mixed martial arts can involve bone snaps, head twisting, jaw rattling and back breaking. Tears occur. Blood is shed. It isn’t for the faint of heart but it can enthrall in a way few sports can in an instant. When the NFL goes away and the NHL gets too soft, people can go to Buffalo Wild Wings and watch the fights and be entertained. UFC fights that is. The bars and restaurants don’t show boxing fights anymore.
Unlike boxing, these fighters show up to fight and hurt each other. I grew up on boxing and still adore it, but I understand its limitations and the struggle it stares down today in trying to keep up with the UFC. One sport gives back to its fans and the others does not. Boxing promoters drape the sport in politics and massive egos. Top Rank promoter Bob Arum will not pit a certain fighter against a certain fighter because it may not be beneficial to the promotional company or his fighters. Boxers are being cuddled and patted on the back. Boxing charges as much or more than UFC and doesn’t always promise an entertaining night of fights.
When Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr. clashed last year, Las Vegas literally shut down and everybody’s attention was on the ring. When the fight fizzled and was covered in injury excuses and the hype overmatched the actual fight, boxing took a huge hit. Nearly every UFC pay per view event promises a fan something amazing. Boxing cares too much about itself to worry about the fans these days. It’s despicable.
When talking to the Fox Sports crew after the fights Saturday night, White seemed optimistic about the futures of his four fighters on the headlining portion of the fights. If Rousey isn’t ready to go this summer, Holm could take another run at Tate for the title before she fights Rousey in November. McGregor can go back to 145(where he belongs right now) and dish Aldo a rematch or find another opponent. Life will go on and the fallen are far from done.
More than anything, White seemed thrilled. He loved what he had created and what fans would be talking about for weeks. He didn’t look like a scared man who lost an investment or a piece of his future. He knows full well that the UFC will keep growing and accumulating talent and grow larger. Fight fans like myself will turn into avid MMA ones. Casual fans will pay more attention, waiting for the next spectacle. This isn’t a phenomenon. This is a long lasting thrill ride folks. Get a load of it before you dismiss it.
Fighters are just like you. Human and on the edge of frailty every time they step into a ring or octagon. Instead of working in an office or store, they enter a ring and fight for their money, taking shots from a hundred different angles that may damage, postpone or end their career. Most fighters don’t know how to do anything else. 99 percent of fighters don’t want to. Everybody does what they have to do and reacts to it. Fighters aren’t that different from you or I.
The real winner Saturday night wasn’t Nate Diaz or Miesha Tate. They won belts, a lot of money and a chance to fight again. The real winner was Dana White. A guy who makes fights that fans want to see and events that enthrall millions across the world. White makes MMA as appealing as a rock concert. You may leave with a bruise, physically or mentally, when you climb into this world. It will be a bruise you will be proud to own.
Thank you Dana White for creating a sport that gives back as much as it takes. In this day and age of recession and money shortage, real entertainment isn’t easy to find.