Some are calling the rematch between Anderson Silva and Chael Sonnen in UFC 148 not only the biggest fight of the year, but perhaps the most anticipated event in the history of the sport. Just ten years ago, the Ultimate Fighting Championship barely had a history to speak of, much less the ability to gain national media attention and millions of viewers.
Here we are in 2012 where the public has demanded to go backwards from the evolved technology of helmets and pads in violent sports to a more primal, bare bones form of combat between two nearly-nude dudes in front of the entire village.
Sure, UFC isn’t as barbaric as medieval times, nor is it comprised of freestyle playground fight moves. Dana White and the rest of the UFC gang have hit the jackpot in terms of balancing a sense of primitive fighting with the technique of mixed martial arts. The rise of the UFC has proven the public’s appetite for dirty, yet sophisticated fighting.
The popularity of the UFC was certainly aided by “right place, right time” circumstances as boxing, which was a top sport worldwide for decades, started a swift decline. Sports fans still wanted a primal and violent sport, but few quality fighters existed in boxing, thus, it was time to look elsewhere.
Individual martial art disciplines weren’t easy enough to follow for a casual fan, as sports like Muay Thai and Jiu Jitsu lacked the accessibility of mainstream boxing in the United States. Why not combine the most entertaining (and violent) techniques and throw them together in the same Octagon?
Stroke of genius.
Mixed martial arts grew in popularity by way of small-town showcases, the way boxing had been prevalent in cities big and small over the years. Anybody could “claim” to be a fighter and get in the ring. Does it mean they were skilled or talented? Hell no, but it connected your average Joe to the emerging sport.
After its inception in the 1990s, the rise of the UFC in the 21st century coincided with the popularity of cable television, a consumer demand for sport like never before, and of course, social media.
White and the UFC have been masterful at cultivating physical talents with a knack for hype and self promotion. As boxing dwindled, struggling to harvest young, marketable talent (minus a select few like Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, obviously), UFC was promoting the hell out of its product, getting its fighters as much exposure as possible.
The sport gained worldwide popularity, in part, due to the international influence intrinsic to the various fighting styles.
When a sport has a villain who is despised by an entire country (I’m looking at you Sonnen), I hate to say it, but in this day and age, that isn’t a bad thing. These fighters talk trash and truly sell a bitter, hated rivalry that may or may not exist when the cameras aren’t rolling. The point is that human beings find conflict fascinating as it draws us like moths to a flame.
The UFC has taken nearly two decades to build, and Saturday’s rematch between Silva and Sonnen might just take the sport to its highest peak yet.