Ultimate Fighting Championship: The Metallica of MMA

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Today the UFC was in New York City holding a press conference which was designed to show the economic impact that they could have on the city if MMA was legalised there. However this has been overshadowed by the fact that Lorenzo Fertitta took the opportunity to reveal that the promotion planned to put on 54 events in 2014, which in turn has brought about somewhat of a fan backlash with the usual complaints of there being too many events, watered down shows, over saturation, etc. You only need to visit any MMA forum or Facebook page right now to see the varied levels of outrage being levied in their general direction.

From a personal point of view I think this is great news. A weekend just isn’t the same for me without the UFC or some form of MMA, the more fights the better I say. The UFC already has a roster which is too large for the previous amount of shows ,so when you add the fact that they will be adding at least 1 more division next year into the mix then producing more shows seems the logical step. It will mean they no longer need to worry about chopping the roster drastically and will give some breathing room to get each fighter their contractually obliged 3 fights per year.

It will also give the promotion greater scope for expanding into new and currently developing markets. New York might not currently be interested in putting on MMA, but there are literally hundreds of cities around the world which are practically begging to be a stop on the international tour. It is basic business that if there is a demand for your product then you want to do your best to provide the corresponding supply. .

Now this is where the title of the article will begin to become more clear. It dawned on me that the majority of people who have a problem with the increase in events and expansion are older fans. I don’t mean old as in being relative to age but as in fans who caught the MMA bug back in the days of PRIDE or the early UFC events. The people that were used to watching the pioneers of the sport, who are all but gone now, or if not gone certainly edging closer to retirement. The fans who started watching back when it was truly a niche sport, new, unique and different. Now that those days are past and they see MMA evolving into a more mainstream spectacle which is pretty much unrecognisable from it’s early days they pine with nostalgia for what once was and pick fault with every new development and attempt at progression.

Observing this fact drew me to the Metallica comparison. When they started out in the 1980’s they brought a fresh, vibrant, energetic and controversial sound to the speakers of young people around the world and became one of the forefathers of Thrash Metal, a genre still going strong today. People looking for something a bit more risky and extreme latched on to them immediately and loved every second of it. Everywhere the band toured they picked up new fans and slowly but surely began to start playing bigger gigs in more mainstream venues. After they had a few albums under their belt however they decided to keep progressing and try something a little bit different.

After the release of ‘Metallica’, their self tilted record also known as The Black Album, large sections of their loyal fan base turned on them instantly. Claims that the band had sold out abounded, old school followers ripped the new material to shreds feeling it was too mainstream sounding, a lot of fans actually destroyed their old albums in protest, some even burned them in the street. Yet despite all this The Black Album went on to be the bands biggest selling album and truly broke them into the worldwide market. To this day they are selling out arena’s worldwide and regularly appear on lists of the top 10 touring acts on the planet.

I find the UFC at a similar stage of their life as Metallica were when they released The Black Album, in some way’s the current ‘Fox Era’ of the UFC could draw direct comparisons. Over the past couple of years the UFC have slowly transformed their product, upped their production value on everything from events to TUF and generally made themselves a much more palatable product for the average viewer sitting at home. This was always going to put some noses out of joint and I have no doubt they were prepared for that, it is a necessary evil of moving out of your comfort zone and daring to try and better yourself.

There are a group of people that simply prefer to be associated with more niche subjects, to unpopular or risque brands, to portray themselves as alternative or slightly left of the norm and if you move out of that arena then those people absolutely will not follow you.Their image is simply more important to them than their loyalty to you or love of your product. It is not like this is a unique situation, in fact I have personally seen it happen even in just my short life so far to hundreds of bands, TV shows, popular personalities, clothing brands, etc.

As the UFC moves forward some, maybe even a lot, of current fans will choose to stay behind or move on to the next big thing, just like Metallica’s fans did all those years ago. I have no doubt though that the UFC will continue to grow it’s success worldwide, pick up many new fans along the way and achieve more and more as times goes on.

Will they become the biggest sport in the world? Maybe not. Will they still be selling out arena’s and be putting on great fights in 20 years time? Most probably. Will there still be people at that point who claim it was much better back in the day and was just never the same after they sold out? You had better believe it.

I will certainly be sticking around to see how it develops. Here is to a great 2014.

Ross Stevenson

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