From Ancient Greece to ESPN: The Rise of MMA

The stare-down between Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather. Their crossover bout showcases the increased appeal of MMA over the years. (Tribune News Service)

The sport of mixed martial arts (MMA) is rapidly growing its influence throughout the world every day. Thanks to the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) leading its global expansion, MMA is the fastest growing sport in the world.

I don’t see the growth stopping any time relatively soon with the hype surrounding its storylines, and the way it’s establishing itself on bigger platforms.

Ever since the time of ancient Greece, mixed martial arts has been a complex and glorified form of combat. Pankration, the combination of boxing and wrestling, has been around since 648 B.C.

Throughout the early 1900s, a lot of different cultures mixed forms of combat to create very interesting cocktails of fighting styles.

Bruce Lee was considered the father of modern-day MMA for his creation of his own form of combat, Jeet Kune Do, which is thought to be the predecessor for what has followed.

And what has followed is an art form that has high intensity, intricacies and danger.

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Brock Lesnar, one of the biggest stars in both the UFC and professional wrestling. (Tribune News Service)

The Ultimate Fighting Championship has propelled the sport to heights never thought possible 20 years ago, when the organization was starting to boost momentum with exponentially popular characters and a no holds barred image.

I started to get into the UFC specifically around the age of 10. I made the transition in interests from WWE, proclaiming one as acting and the other, actual fighting, in my young mind. It was exhilarating, unpredictable and precise. It took an extremely high skill level to achieve greatness.

Stars like Anderson Silva, Forrest Griffin and Brock Lesnar drew me in and I was hooked. My infatuation fizzled throughout high school as other interests and responsibilities pulled my attention away from the sport. Other than gigantic headlines, I was out of the loop.

In the middle of  2018, when I decided to heavily follow the sport again, I was amazed. Names like Jon Jones, Conner McGregor and Amanda Nunes were known worldwide, as if they had songs on the radio. I could legitimately have conversations about the sport accidentally with random people.

In just a five-year span, the sport had grown so much more than I thought it did; to the point where secondary MMA promotions outside the UFC were starting to get worldwide attention as well. Even from someone who was expecting the breakout popularity, I had never imagined it would get the attention it has this soon.

The process that is the rising popularity of the UFC and the sport of MMA, is unstoppable at this point and it won’t slow down any time soon. The UFC will be, if not already, thrust to the same heights of the NBA, NFL and MLB.

A documentary by the UFC showing the rise of Ronda Rousey and how her and her contemporaries put women in sports in the spotlight. (YouTube/UFC)

The proof is in front of our eyes. Earlier this year, in January of 2019, UFC finally brokered a deal with ESPN, which I think was a long term goal for them from the beginning.

So not only is ESPN holding occasional fight nights on cable television, but they have a perk on their app called ESPN+ where they hold a majority of smaller events on the app, on top of past events for a low monthly fee.

ESPN is the worldwide gateway for sports news in a sense. They are world-renowned for being “the” platform in terms of sports. 

But still, I questioned the longevity of the sport over and over again despite how much it excited me and how much it was growing. I had just never found any local die-hard fans or MMA enthusiasts. Little did I know, I just hung out at the wrong places.

On Sept. 7, 2019, the world had its eyes on the UFC as Russian world champion and one of the most popular fighters ever, Khabib Nurmagomedov defended his world title in his home country. Khabib is known worldwide for his dominant, wrestling based style and  always draws large crowds and a lot of eyes for his bouts. 

It was a can’t miss moment for me, so I tried a new spot to watch it due to it being in Abu Dabi and its early start time of 2 p.m. Buffalo Wild Wings on Stroop Road was one of the only sports bars who were showing it, so a friend and I met there.

I have been going to sports bars for fights sporadically every few months since 2011. When I say I have never felt an energy like that, centered around MMA, in my entire existence; I absolutely mean it. The experience was incredible, as the entire packed populace of the establishment was in an uproar about every moment. 

Reactions were biased towards both sides of competition. It was a community of MMA enthusiasts, going wild. Even when they took smoke breaks from the restaurant, they were passionately debating the fights while outside.

Some of McGregor’s best bits of trash talking that put him and the UFC on the map. (YouTube/ESPN)

I loved being in that type of environment, as I usually get confused stares while I cheer for my favorite fighter and negotiate with a flatscreen television at other establishments.

It was different here. Everyone was captivated and bursting with fandom. That night at “B-Dubs” showed me that MMA is everywhere, and there’s nothing we can do to stop the growth of this electrifying art form.

As I’ve accepted the rise of the UFC to stand with the other major organizations, I’ve noticed several local gyms and training facilities centered around the sport. A couple of local promotions have also caught my eye.

Thanks to the UFC, there is no shortage of MMA almost anywhere. Definitely not in Ohio.

Jeff Allen
Sports Editor

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