UFC Establishes New Mark for PPV Buys in 2009

December 28, 2009

The UFC sold an estimated 8 million PPVs in 2009, which is a mark that breaks the organization’s previous record of 6.2 million that was set in the calendar year of 2008. Not only did the UFC enjoy an increase in popularity due to – among other things – the release of its newest video game and more media coverage, but it also found new stars with which to push its product even further. The likes of Lesnar, St-Pierre, Penn, Griffin, and Machida have all become solid draws for the company.

The following information is a summary of the UFC’s PPV buyrate history over the last four years:

UFC

2006

 

2007

 

2008

 

2009

57

400000

67

400,000

80

225,000

93

350,000

58

290000

68

540,000

81

600,000

94

800,000

59

425000

69

400,000

82

325,000

96

350,000

60

620000

71

675,000

83

530,000

97

650,000

61

775000

72

200,000

84

475,000

98

635,000

62

500000

73

425,000

85

215,000

99

365,000

63

400000

74

520,000

86

540,000

100

1,600,000

64

300000

76

475,000

87

625,000

101

900,000

65

500000

77

325,000

88

480,000

102

435,000

66

1050000

78

325,000

90

300,000

103

375,000

   

79

700,000

91

900,000

104

500,000

       

92

1,050,000

106

375,000

           

107

620,000

               
 

2006

 

2007

 

2008

 

2009

Number

10

 

11

 

12

 

13

Average

526,000

 

453,182

 

522,083

 

611,923

Median

462,500

 

425,000

 

505,000

 

500,000

Total

5,260,000

 

4,985,000

 

6,265,000

 

7,955,000

               
% Increase    

-5.23%

 

25.68%

 

26.98%

 

Payout Perspective:

The above data comparison yields some interesting observations:

1.)The most obvious of observations is that, despite the injury-plagued second half of the year, the UFC still enjoyed a record-breaking 2009. And that’s easy to forget when you consider what might have been had Lesnar been healthy and Rampage not gone to acting.

From an optimistic point of view, one could actually point to the results in the second half of the year, and say not that the UFC was declining, but that the organization is capable of further improvement on just its existing popularity alone (ignoring any future potential gains in popularity). It’s not a stretch to think that the UFC could have done 1 million more buys in 2009 given what we know about Lesnar’s drawing ability and the influence of momentum on PPV viewing habits.

2.) However, if you’re looking for any sort of indication as to how difficult September through November really was for the UFC, the organization’s YOY PPV growth dropped from some 60% in August down to the UFC’s two-year average of around 26%. That increase also includes one extra event in ’09.

3.) Moreover, while the PPV total and event average increased in 2009, the median did not. This suggests the UFC was far more volatile in 2009, which is sort of obvious when you look at UFC 100′s 1.6 million being a clear 600k ahead of anything else the organization did on the year.

The point behind the volatility is that it really underscores the difference that exists between the drawing power of the UFC brand versus the drawing ability of certain fighters within the UFC. The oft-discussed UFC baseline probably hovers around 350k – the number of hardcore UFC fans that tune in regardless of who is fighting. But the higher totals we have seen over the last few years are the result of significant draws on the top end of the card: Lesnar, St-Pierre, Griffin, Penn, Mir, Machida, Silva, etc.  

It’s also important to note that the gap between the brand’s drawing ability and that of the brand’s star fighters has grown considerably over the last few years. As you’ll note in 2006 or 2007 some of the promotion’s top end fighters like Liddell or Penn were doing 400-500k, which was considering excellent. At the same time 200k was considered to be the minimum for any event.

I’ve always maintained that the business strategy that helped the UFC climb to its current popularity won’t be suitable for pushing the organization to the next level, and the numbers would seem to support this. Moving forward, it’s going to be very important for the UFC to push the individual fighters in order to further their own growth. However, that doesn’t mean the UFC should abandon its brand building strategy altogether; there is a way the UFC can build its fighters within a UFC-themed campaign that would accomplish both goals. 

4.) There’s been some criticism of Dave Meltzer’s PPV estimates lately, but he’s always maintained that they’re just estimates and susceptible to inaccuracies - sometimes a number will change by as much as 10%. To his credit, he often follows up to change a number when a better estimate is reported.

Regardless, even if you take +/- 10% range on each of the yearly totals, the lower 2009 estimate is still large enough to beat the upper limit of what 2008 could have possibly done.

  2006   2007   2008   2009
Lower 4,734,000   4,486,500   5,638,500   7,159,500
Upper 5,786,000   5,483,500   6,891,500   8,750,500

 

Fedor-Strikeforce Analysis

August 4, 2009

By Kelsey Philpott

Fedor signing with Strikeforce is a complex issue not because of the deal itself, but because of the underlying implications it may or may not have for the MMA community as a whole. Thus, we’ll take a look at the signing from the viewpoint of the many different stakeholders in this situation.

The Strikeforce Perspective:

Strikeforce has not only managed to add one of the world’s top fighters, but they’ve also denied their competition that same opportunity. The UFC is without the ability to promote the biggest heavyweight match of all-time, and while it won’t hurt their competitor, it’s not going to help.

Emelianenko isn’t just any top fighter, either - he’s a top heavyweight fighter. Scott Coker is banking on the allure of the heavyweight division to help further his promotion along as a PPV entity and tap into some of that UFC money.

However, one has to wonder whether the potential benefits in signing Fedor will outweigh the costs. In other words, will gains in revenue and reputation be enough to off-set and exceed the costs of the marketing push necessary to make Emelianenko a PPV draw? He’s a talented fighter, but the casual MMA fan needs to be aware of him in order to follow him. 

In addition to the substantial marketing push, it’s worth pointing out that Strikeforce will also have to pay Emelianenko and put up with the operational inefficiencies that are sure to crop up as the result of this “co-promotion” agreement with M-1 Global. The co-promotion thing didn’t work out too well for Affliction; neither did having the “strongest” heavyweight division on the planet for that matter.

The signing also begs the question: who is Fedor going to fight? It’s not enough that Fedor is a superb talent, he also has to fight superb talent. Fans want to know they’re watching the best fight the best, not the best fight the mediocre. Aside from Overeem, Werdum, and Rogers, who is there? 

The Fedor Perspective:

In signing with Strikeforce, Fedor will fight in the U.S. and have the opportunity to build his brand on network television. If all goes well, Strikeforce plans on producing PPV events that could potentially be quite lucrative for Emelianenko. 

Yet, Fedor is also assuming some risk with this agreement. He’s banking on the ability of Strikeforce to a.) market him properly and increase his drawing power, b.) provide him with suitable opponents to test his skills, and c.) competently manage their organization so as to not go out of business.

The real question here seems to be, what does Fedor want? Nobody really knows, but if it were money, or even exposure for that matter, he probably would have been better off signing with the UFC. This leads me to believe the Strikeforce deal was made for reasons independent of money or exposure.

Fedor may have very well signed with Strikeforce to spite the UFC; the same organization that has openly taunted and criticized the Russian for the better part of two years now. And, really, why work for someone you despise?

The Showtime/CBS Perspective:

The Fedor signing gives both networks yet another tool to help market and enhance the credibility of their events. If either one can manage to sell the human interest story of the stoic Russian who trains in a Siberian school yard – only to annihilate former UFC heavyweight champions - they might be able to seriously cash in on the return.

The downside is that they’re likely going to be dumping a ton of marketing dollars into Fedor (in addition to picking up part of his payday for each fight). If Strikeforce can’t come through with solid opponents, or Fedor simply doesn’t catch on, it might push both networks out of the MMA business for good (or the foreseeable future). Both Showtime and CBS were burned by the EliteXC experience; it’s probably not a stretch to suggest they’re extremely cautious right now.

The M-1 Perspective:

Vadim Finkelstein gets to plaster his M-1 brand all over network and premium cable television, and by virtue of that, help to grow the name of the company in the hopes of making it a global empire. The details of the agreement haven’t been released in full, so it’s difficult to say whether things will truly be split down the middle, or whether Strikeforce will be left with the operations and M-1 will merely get to push its name and logo on telecasts (and as the sponsors of every fight).

Interestingly enough, M-1 also retains more control over Fedor in this deal. The UFC has a history of separating fighters from their management – in fact they said repeatedly that they only wanted to deal with Fedor. By signing with Strikeforce, M-1 keeps Fedor away from the UFC, gets him involved with the Strikeforce co-promotion, and gives him a degree of ownership in a project which is likely to make him feel more connected to M-1.

However, it’s tough to say whether the M-1 will gain any sort of significant traction as a single entity while being attached to a co-promotion. They’ll need to find a way to leverage their M-1 Breakthrough series and their M-1 Challenger series through the Strikeforce agreement and make people aware of who they are and what they’re doing. If they fail, they’ll probably just be relegated to “official sponsor” status in the minds of most viewers (an official sponsor that doesn’t sell any clothing or produce anything tangible, simply because they don’t know about it).

The UFC Perspective:

Dana White and the UFC are going to be angry, obviously. In missing out on Fedor they feel they’re missing out on giving the fans what they want: the ultimate heavyweight showdown between Brock and Fedor. It’s also a lost opportunity to crank up the UFC hype machine and give the UFC yet another MMA star to help build its global brand. Fedor would have been another piece to the Asian puzzle and could have helped cement the resurrection of the heavyweight division.

With that said, the UFC isn’t necessarily going to be hurt by this deal. As we’ve pointed out, they’re on pace for a record year with or without Emelianenko. Brock Lesnar is truthfully a far better draw – even if the debate will continue to rage on as to whether he’s the better fighter – and that is what’s important to the UFC from a business perspective. The UFC has plenty of good heavyweights that they can pit against Brock in order to do great PPV buy numbers; they don’t need Fedor in this sense.

However, I do think it’s worth mentioning that the UFC’s history of trash talking has finally caught up with it. When is the organization going to learn that trash talking other non-UFC fighters isn’t going to get them anywhere? Dana made it clear last week, contrary to his previous statements over the last few years, that he thought Fedor was a top-flight heavyweight. The fact that he was willing to give Fedor a title shot right out of the gate is a case of actions speaking louder than words.

So why burn a bridge with someone that you’d like to have in your company; someone that could potentially help you in the future? And for what? Fedor has failed to become an entity in North America not because of Dana White’s trash talk, but because of the incompetence of those he’s surrouned himself with.

The Sport Perspective:

In the short term, Fedor will be fighting once again – and that’s a great thing.

In the long term, there are still many unanswered questions:

- Will the Strikeforce/M-1 partnership work out? What happens to Strikeforce if it fails?
- Can some combination of Strikeforce, Showtime, and CBS manage to market Fedor properly?
- Will Strikeforce be able to successfully adjust its business model towards PPVs and Network TV?
- Can Strikeforce provide Fedor with the opposition he deserves?
- And…what the hell happens if Fedor loses?

 Those are serious.

MMA Stardom: Fighting Most Important

August 3, 2009

Anderson Silva’s up-coming light heavyweight tilt against Forrest Griffin provides the perfect background for today’s discussion: MMA stars. 

What is the definition of an MMA star?

Generally, there exist two types of stars in any sport: athletic stars and cross-over stars. Athletic stars gain acclaim and following through their in-competition achievements. While cross-over stars are known for some combination of their appearance, charisma, or human interest in addition, obviously, to athletic ability. It’s that combination that allows these athletes to “cross-over” and derive interest from a non-sporting perspective.

Unfortunately, the most common misconception regarding MMA stars is that they must be charismatic, attractive, and intriguing individuals in order to be deemed a star. In other words, fighters like Anderson Silva or Lyoto Machida should be incredible orators, public ambassadors, and/or willing extra-curricular participants in order to draw PPV sales. This is patently false.

The simple truth of the matter is that fans attend events to be entertained by the fighting. All the talk, the glitz, and the glamour mean nothing at the end of the day if the fighting is garbage. Thus, as a fighter, the most important trait one can have is an exciting, entertaining fighting style.

Chuck Liddell is arguably the most popular MMA fighter ever, but he didn’t reach those heights on the back of his good looks, incredible charm, or engaging personality. Let’s be honest, we’re talking about a man that once appeared intoxicated and nearly fell asleep during a morning talk show interview… No, Liddell was popular because fans always knew what to expect from him: someone that was going to engage his opponent and likely knock him out.
 
And, while far from conclusive, the PPV numbers and TV ratings would seem to further support this hypothesis. Liddell’s numbers grew as he became more dominant and his sheer presence has carried many a PPV. The UFC promoted Silva as the “Pound-for-Pound King” for Spike’s UFC: Silva vs. Irvin and he went on to destroy his opponent in front of over 4 million viewers (3.1 rating); had he been able to dominate Cote his PPV draw ability would have soared (despite the fact that UFC 90 did only 300,000 buys). Furthermore, a similar trend is evident with Lyoto Machida; as his victories have become more dominant, his following has expanded (including a Hughes-Serra assisted 635,000 buys at UFC 98 when he took the title).

Does this mean that MMA should forget about building a cross-over star? Absolutely not.

Brock Lesnar is perhaps already on his way to becoming that cross-over star that everyone covets – even if he isn’t what people envision as the typical cross-over. He’s a polarizing force that draws interest not just because of his ability, but his freakish size, nasty demeanour, and unpredictable public mannerisms. Some will tune in to see the spectacle that is the gargantuan man beating another over the head with repeated hammer fists. Others will tune in to see “that lippy WWE son of a gun get what he deserves.” Others still will watch because of their appreciation for his wrestling ability and to see how much he’s improved since his last fight.

However, to expect that MMA is capable of building a host of cross-over talent is probably unwise – not to mention unnecessary. A cross-over star is a rare, if not generational, breed of athlete. It’s not everyday that a De La Hoya comes knocking at the door of any sport. Brock may not ever reach that level of popularity – and as I’ve pointed out, certainly not in the same fashion - but that doesn’t matter.

The sport doesn’t need to have multiple jack-of-all-trades; it just needs good, exciting fighters.

If Anderson Silva can bury Forrest Griffin this weekend under a “ballet of violence,” most, if not all, will be forgiven and he’ll likely continue his ascension towards being one of MMA’s must-see PPV draws.

The Case for Legalization: Quantifying Economic Windfalls

June 19, 2009

By Kelsey Philpott

While I may have argued for a fundamental shift in MMA’s approach to seeking legalization, I’m not naive enough to believe that the economics of the sport do not have a role in the legalization process.

The fact of the matter is it’s simply not enough to preach the virtues of MMA as a sport and expound its comparable safety record to all the public naysayers and fence-sitters. It’s now time to broach the topic of economic windfalls – MMA’s veritable ace in the hole.

We’ve all heard it countless times, “UFC events mean millions for their host communities, governments, and regulatory bodies.” But what does that really mean in layman’s terms and what about non-UFC events?

In order to understand the true economic potential of MMA, you’ve first got to understand the root of MMA’s commercial success: its appeal to the male 18-34 demographic.

It’s a demographic characterized by young people that are just coming into significant quantities of disposable cash. They don’t yet have the types of cash burdens (mortgages, children, retirement plans) that will accompany them later on in life and thus, as a group, their purchasing power is literally unmatched.

And on the strength of this demographic and its purchasing power, MMA has become much more than a sport; it’s become a lifestyle complete with its own vernacular and way of dress. MMA has been able to branch out well beyond its fighting roots and into various other industries – clothing, collectibles, entertainment, and nutrition – to form what is collectively referred to as the MMA industry.

While the UFC may be the only promotion raking in hundreds of millions in yearly revenue, but it’s not the only company within the industry to do so. Tapout, for example, earned nearly $120 million in revenue last year and hopes to make it $250 million this year.

But how do you quantify what all of that means to MMA’s host communities?

You first have to acknowledge that the size of the economic windfall to any host community isn’t just going to depend on the size and calibre of the event, but also the size of the community itself. In other words, a UFC event in Toronto is going to create a much greater windfall than a regional show in London, Ontario.

In regards to windfalls, the greatest strength of the UFC is that its shows have the ability to increase tourism for a certain community: anywhere between 40% and 70% of the patrons at UFC events are from out of town. If you consider that the UFC could easily sell-out either of the 20,000 seat arenas in Toronto or New York City, for example, that means anywhere from 8,000 to 14,000 in attendance would be using local public transportation, local restaurants, local hotels, local shopping malls, and local nightclubs for an average of two days during that UFC event.

If the average amount that each individual spends during that weekend is $500, the economic windfall from that one UFC event is likely to be in between $4 million and $7 million. If you bump that average up to $1,000 over two days – which is certainly possible given the natural inflation seen in bigger markets like T.O. and NYC or the sheer number of things to do in both cities - the economic spinoff fits into the range of $8 to $14 million.

Further consider the percentage of  the crowd (30%-60%) that consists of local fans – all of whom are also spending money on public transport, restaurants, and bars – and the economic windfall to surrounding business and local governments becomes even larger.

However, MMA is much greater than its flagship promotion and there are countless other organizations out there just chomping at the bit to get into areas like Ontario or New York – all of whom would also make significant contributions to local economies.

I know that Canada’s largest promotion, the Maximum Fighting Championship, is already in talks with several Ontario-based casinos – in cities like Windsor, Hamilton, and London – about the prospects of hosting MMA events in the province should the sport be legalized. Mark Pavelich runs a tight ship in Edmonton and has a great deal of experience that he could quite easily parlay into a successful Ontario venture if given the opportunity. I’d also expect a slew of start-ups in Ontario the minute they open for business.

The same can also be said for any number of promotions in the US that would all take a hard look at the state of New York – cities like Buffalo, Albany, Rochester, and Syracuse, in addition to the Big Apple – as locations for their shows.

In cases such as these, the windfalls to local communities are smaller but not insignificant. Some of the venues at these proposed sites could hold anywhere from 5,000 to 10,000 people and that’s a legitimate amount of money (even if each person only spends $50 that evening).

(I encourage anyone interested in further exploring the economic potential of MMA events to check out this detailed impact study.)

The Argument from Community Development

MMA events, big and small, also do their part to help stir up the demand for infrastructure necessary to revitalize local communities.

It’s simply a numbers issue whereby venue managers have an additional booking option at their disposal in order to increase patronage. Those booking options can then create further demand and community support for re-investment in infrastructure that can go a long way towards propping up local businesses. I’ve seen this type of development in many places, including my hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba.

In Winnipeg, the demand for a new entertainment facility was so great that the Province of Manitoba and City of Winnipeg combined to build the new MTS Centre downtown. It’s a state of the art facility that’s now host to several world class events on a monthly basis – Coldplay and The Offspring this week alone.

And the effect the MTS Centre has had on the surrounding restaurants, bars, and shopping malls has been tremendous. It’s helped to pick up a previously forgotten and very much downtrodden area of Winnipeg, while also fighting back against a bit of the urban sprawl that has plagued the city for years.

The Argument from Competition

And it’s not just that Ontario and New York are currently going without these economic windfalls and development stimulants, but also that they’re passing them onto their competitors.

Toronto and New York consider themselves legitimate players on the international stage, yet they’re ceding these tremendous opportunities to other world-class cities like Los Angeles, London, Dublin, and Tokyo that have all legalized the sport.

Knowing the international stage as the very cut throat and competitive environment that it is, neither city can afford to fall behind the rest of the world. The same argument could also easily be made from a national perspective.

Conclusion on the Case for Legalization

It’s very important for the MMA community to establish the sport’s legitimacy and safety record before further arguing its case with economic incentives.

I say this because no one likes to feel as though they’ve been bought or forced to sacrifice their morality. Feelings of this nature are certainly a breeding ground for the resentment, negativity, and the perpetuation of falsehoods that MMA fights on a daily basis.

Moreover, why should MMA have to buy its way into any state, province, or country? The integrity of the sport should demand acceptance, not a purchased tolerance.  

However, as I’ve illustrated, there is a definite place for arguments based upon the economic windfalls in the case for MMA’s legalization. These are arguments that need to be better explained and quantified before they can be exploited to their full use.

The Case for Legalization: Debunking MMA's Safety Myths

June 10, 2009

By Kelsey Philpott

The issue of safety is often raised when people start to discuss the merits of mixed martial arts and probably rightfully so. After all the sport can appear, to the uninitiated, quite dangerous if it’s given only a cursory glance.

It’s also hard to fault those individuals: the speed and ferocity of the sport is pretty startling when you add in the perception of the 4 oz. gloves and bevy of elbows, knees, and head kicks. Moreover, consider that most of those that have never seen an MMA fight before have still almost certainly heard something negative about the sport from a biased news report – their opinion and judgement of MMA is almost predetermined.

Needless to say, changing public opinion about the safety and legitimacy of MMA is going to require a much greater effort than simply plunking down all the naysayers and fence-sitters in front of a UFC PPV for an evening.

When I talk about MMA and its safety record, I often cite a 2006 research article published in the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine on the incidence of injury in professional mixed martial arts competitions. The conclusion of the study, performed by the prestigious John Hopkins University School of Medicine, was as follows:

Mixed Martial Arts competitions have changed dramatically since the first Ultimate Fighting Championship in 1993. The overall injury rate in MMA competitions is now similar to other combat sports, including boxing. Knockout rates are lower in MMA competitions than in boxing. This suggestsa reduced risk of TBI in MMA competitions when compared to other events involving striking.”

The study is nearly three years old, but I’ve elected to bring it up for two reasons: 1.) the study is MMA’s biggest ally in fighting the safety stereotypes that plague legalization discussions, and 2.) I believe that some people within the industry have grossly misinterpreted the results of the study and therefore MMA proponents must be cautious as to what they claim the study proves.

So, what does this study really tell us about MMA and its safety record?

It tells us that with respect to TBI – traumatic brain injury – MMA is probably safer than boxing and other combat sports.

The result of the study is also quite timely in the sense that TBI is a hot-button issue in all contact sports right now; head shots, concussions, and concerns for an athletes’ post-career quality of life are very much at the forefront of league meetings in the NFL and NHL. It would be quite interesting to see a study comparing the rates of TBI between MMA and football, because I have a hunch that MMA compares quite favourably to America’s most popular and accepted sport.

At any rate, the fact that MMA compares favourably to other combat sports is a real positive for the sport because it at least helps to debunk the myth that the 4 oz. gloves and interdisciplinary nature of the competition push MMA beyond the boundary of acceptability when it comes to safety.

The results make sense, too.

A boxer only has two striking options available to him: the body or the head – and the repeated blunt-force trauma caused by the average 200-400 head shots in any given match is very hard on brain tissue.

A mixed martial artist, on the other hand, throws considerably less head shots in any given bout (of which the maximum length is 25 minutes compared to 36 or 45 in some cases with boxing). An MMA fighter need not even throw a punch to earn a victory, so long as he chooses to pursue a wrestling or submission strategy to the match. Further, the rule set of MMA is also designed to protected fighters from brain injury by eliminating standing eight counts – if you’re out, you’re out.

What the study does not tell us, however, is that MMA is absolutely safer than boxing or other combat sports. It could very well be that, in regards to lacerations and fractures, MMA is more dangerous than other combat sports.

 Who’s to say?

That is the limitation of the John Hopkins study, and MMA needs to be careful when utilizing the study because it only provides a certain level of support for the sport’s safety record. The MMA community also needs to be mindful of the fact that there really aren’t any long term studies that exist to determine the effect of MMA competition on post-career quality of living. The sport simply hasn’t been around long enough to determine the effects and, at this point, the medical community can only hypothesize as to what might be the result of an MMA fighters post-fight career.

Conclusion:

 The John Hopkins study should be seen for what it is: a study that supports the legitimacy of the sport through establishing comparable safety records to that of other American past times. It’s also another resource in the education tool box that the MMA community can use to gain public support and help sway legislation towards legalization.

The Case for Legalization: MMA is a Sport

June 7, 2009

By Kelsey Philpott

I’ve established how and why a fundamental shift in MMA’s approach to seeking legalization is necessary for MMA to progress further. It’s essentially a renewed approach to educating the naysayers and fence-sitters about MMA to correct the misconceptions about the sport. Once MMA is able to clear up any false pretences about its sport and its safety record, it can then move on to preaching the economic spinoff benefits that accompany its events.

The first step in educating the masses about mixed martial arts is to actually teach them how and why MMA is a legitimate, bona fide sport.

It’s certainly strange to write something like this, but it’s necessary because MMA can no longer afford to let assumptions rule the minds of those making decisions. MMA has to state its position outright.

What is a sport? To most it means some sort of activity which requires both skill and physical prowess to compete.

I’d argue that not only does MMA combine several different interdisciplinary fighting styles such as boxing, wrestling, jiu-jitsu, and muay thai – all of which require a tremendous amount of skill and physical prowess - but the requisite level of mastery of these techniques easily parallels that of the mastery required at the highest levels of any other sport.

The sport of MMA and its many different disciplines are also highly regulated under a universal set of rules, procedures, and guidelines – including over 30 different in-cage rules and a strict drug testing policy – that have been designed to protect the health, well-being, and integrity of MMA and its athletes.

It’s foolish to assume that the naysayers or fence-sitters know about the rules and regulations that MMA abides by, because, quite frankly, it seems as though they often don’t. And for as much as the MMA community complains of the ignorance of others, it ought to look in the mirror to realize that not everyone cares to find the right information themselves!

That’s why it needs to be said: an MMA fighter cannot scratch, eye gouge, hair pull, groin kick, hit an opponent to the back of the head, or use steroids, amongst other things.

The diversity of technique and strict regulation of the sport also demand that its athletes be of the highest standard. It’s simply not enough to be a one-dimensional fighter anymore; and, as a result, MMA features some of the most physically-gifted, skilled, hard working, and disciplined athletes on the planet. Further, the professionalism and benevolence that is by-and-large displayed by the entire MMA community only adds to the reputation of its athletes.

Georges St. Pierre is the type of person and athlete that exemplifies what mixed martial arts is all about and the community should take greater strides to use him an ambassadorial role.

Answering MMA’s Critics

MMA is essentially bargaining with mass opinion and in order to win that battle, the sport must meet the interests (i.e., answer the concerns) of the public.

The most common complaint or criticism of MMA that I often hear opponents use is that technique, rules, and athleticism are irrelevant when the objective of MMA is to hurt the person standing across the cage. But is that really the true objective of the sport?

I would argue the true objective of any MMA fighter is to be victorious over his opponent, not to bring real harm to his opponent. More importantly, MMA is the ultimate physical and spiritual test that pits a fighter not just against another person, but against himself.

Is the anguish two fighters put themselves through any different than the strife two competing marathon runners experience when pushing each other towards the finish line in the dying minutes of a race? The sport of MMA is as much about conquering oneself as it is conquering others. And that explains why the sport exhibits the level of class and sportsmanship that it does.

MMA is further criticized for perpetuating violence, particularly amongst youth, in our society. I suppose this isn’t really a huge surprise considering that just about everything associated with Generation Y is certain to be responsible for the world going to hell – television, videogames, cell phones, facebook, etc.

It might surprise critics to know, however, that the fact of the matter is quite the opposite. I’ve seen far more evidence of MMA pulling troubled teens off the street and giving them a healthy and controlled way to channel their aggression. Furthermore, I think you’ll find that if you surveyed the incidence of illegal, underground fighting – something that occured well before MMA began - in areas where MMA is sanctioned to areas where MMA is not, you’d find even more correlating evidence to support this position.

Lastly, and this is probably my favourite, there exists this notion out there that MMA somehow compromises the morality of our society; in other words, it’s simply wrong. It’s certainly closely related to the earlier criticisms and misconceptions of the sport and is something I feel will disappear if MMA can manage to do a better job of educating people about the sport.

There will, however, undoubtedly remain some people that still disagree with the idea of MMA and in this regard, I’m not sure there is much MMA can do. Therefore, why worry about it? 

The issue of morality itself opens a whole other can of worms: it’s not only highly subjective but also greatly influenced by one’s surrounding environment (again we broach the subject of cultural relativism). I’m not about to tell anyone what’s right or wrong - apart from the obvious – and MMA certainly doesn’t encroaches upon that obvious line. The sport does not infringe upon any fundamental human rights; it features willing, competent combatants duelling in a controlled setting; and it does not further perpetuate that combat outside of the proper channels.

What more is there to say? Difference exist, I respect those of others, but I’m not about to force MMA on anyone that doesn’t like it. Nor am I about to let them tell me what I should or should not be doing.

Payout Conclusion

The bottom line, here, is the public perception that MMA is a violent, bloodlust akin to human cockfighting could not be further from the truth. Everyone in MMA understands this, and it’s about time the public did too.

MMA is a legitimate sport and deserves to be legalized.

The Case for Legalization: A Fundamental Shift

June 5, 2009

By Kelsey Philpott

The recent developments in New York and Ontario would seem to bring about the proper timing for yet another discussion about legalizing mixed martial arts.

In lieu of my recent debut television appearance for Rogers Sportsnet’s MMA: Connected, speaking on this very subject (in addition to a host of other business-related MMA issues), I’ve also decided to comment in print.

I’ll say this much: the legalization scale seems to be slowly tipping in MMA’s favour. The ball is now rolling so to speak – despite the enormous amount of work still left to be done – but, in order for MMA to move any further, I believe that a fundamental shift in the sport’s approach to seeking legislation needs to occur.

In the past few years I’ve observed a bit of an unnerving trend in the way in which the sport has gone about trying to get itself sanctioned. For a time, educating the naysayers and the unfamiliar about the sport was very much at the forefront of MMA’s agenda. But as MMA began to grow and experience some degree of success, education was put on the back burner in favour of arguments based upon the economic contributions that MMA events make to their host communities.

It truly seemed as though the sport had been waging a media campaign for the legalization and sanctioning of mixed martial arts based almost solely upon financial posturing. Any debate about the legalization or sanctioning of MMA was quickly dominated by revenue figures and profit potentials.

Did it work? To an extent, but I also feel it’s been the cause of some the heel digging we’re now seeing in areas like Ontario and New York (although I’m not about to ignore some of the unique issues in either area that have played a role in shaping their respective landscapes – we’ll save those intricacies for another day).

The argument based upon economic spinoffs is a bit misguided in the sense that although money does make the world go-round, but people also want to know that MMA is an activity which isn’t morally reprehensible or a negative influence within their community.

What’s more is that we live in a society of cultural relativism; where the definition of good and bad is often influenced by the powerful and motivated. It’s not about right or wrong in absolute form, but who can shout the loudest and appeal to the ignorant or indifferent masses sitting on the fence.

And who can blame the fence-sitters? Being anything other than ignorant or indifferent, these days, is truly an effort. Individuals are inundated with thousands of pieces of information on a weekly basis – a great deal of which are biased by government or corporations – and they need some way to process everything. Hence, they stereotype.

That’s why education is so important. MMA has a very important message that isn’t going to be distributed or explained on its own. It’s up to the MMA community as a whole to distribute and explain that message – to cure the ignorant or indifferent of their false stereotypes.

Let me give you an example: I’m Canadian and I know NOTHING about basketball. Take me to a basketball game and give me floor seats and I’ll still know next to NOTHING about basketball. But, if you give me floor seats and put me next to Stan Van Gundy for a game, chances are I’m going to pick up a few things about the sport – at least the basics.

It’s just not enough to call these people ignorant and demand that they go “watch some MMA;” or, worse, throw money at them in hoping they’ll give in or give up. The MMA community has no choice but to take these ignorant or indifferent individuals by the hand and show them how and why MMA is one of the greatest sports in the world.

And what if some, like Bob Reilly, don’t want to listen? There are 20 other members of the Tourism Committee in New York that might. In other words, “coalition build” with the majority and give the minority little choice.

To accomplish this, the MMA community has to return to an approach based upon educating those ignorant naysayers about the true nature of mixed martial arts:

Only afterwards is it time to broach the subject of economic spinoffs because, again, quite simply, no one likes to feel as though they’ve been bought – like they’ve sacrificed their morality for a few bucks and a t-shirt.

The greatest minds in negotiation will tell you that you’re best served in finding the common interests between all parties at the table and working to meet them equitably. If MMA wants global acceptance, it must realize that the interests of the world are far greater than simply money.

Therefore, MMA needs more Marc Ratners preaching the virtues of the sport to congress or parliament, more Ken Hayashi’s visiting UFC events, more websites like MMAfacts.com, and more people within the community, other than the UFC, stepping up to truly inform the misinformed.