Thursday, 28 May 2009


No holds barred. No gloves or guards. No weight classes. No time limits. Two men enter, one man leaves. Banned in many states across America. Joe Son getting repeatedly punched in the plums. These are some of the enduring concepts and images of the early-days UFC. The owners promoted the idea of a dangerous and barely legal sport, and it won them many curious fans in the beginning. They traded on an exaggerated perception of brutality. It was brutal then, and some maintain it still is now. Sadly, in the eyes of some law makers, 1994 was not so long ago. People with legislative influence who were shocked by the blood-thirsty posturing of the early UFC advertising, may be difficult to persuade now. The people who found UFC 1 barbaric, have not been buying the Pay Per Views since, and have not watched the sport grow and change over the years. Zuffa and MMA are now facing some of these same people, trying to explain to them how the sport is both skilled and safe. Now the tables have turned, the shock and awe style promotion that suited the pre-Zuffa era is counter productive and in order to market the UFC in its modern form, the “Just Bleed” man is out of favour. MMA is now marketed as evolved combat between “complete” fighters, with late stoppages howled at by fans and Dana White alike, and drug cheats receiving bans. The battle for New York MMA legislation is seen as the other sign that MMA in general and the UFC in particular are moving up in the market. Is this in itself an achievement of “the next level?” It certainly would be a great achievement for all of New York’s MMA practitioners and fans. The UFC would have a great trophy venue in Madison Square Garden, which will no doubt provoke some pointless animosity from a few members of the boxing community. The UFC will provide event revenue figures, as well as estimates of the impact a travelling UFC audience has on local economy and tourism. The safety record and details of rules and precautions will back up the more contextual comparisons with other so-called “dangerous” sports. Whilst New York would be a legal coup, make no mistake that the UFC will be immediately hot on the heels of the next state with legislation issues, or even whole countries such as France. Last time I was on holiday in New York there was an enormous advertising board in Time Square, proudly promoting the next UFC show. I wasn’t aware at the time that MMA competition was illegal. When I visited Renzo Gracie’s gym to buy a T-shirt, it was packed with BJJ students preparing for a weigh-in. There are people training and preparing, having to leave a city they love to participate in a sport they love. It is not the goal to have the entire world fighting, more that the entire world is allowed to fight, should it choose to. NEXT: UFC BRANDED PRODUCTS

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