MMA fans have heard UFC President Dana White call mixed martial arts “the fastest growing sport in the world” countless times, but it is hard to understand just exactly how fast the sport is growing.

Let’s face it, MMA is also one of the youngest sports in the world, and it only makes sense that as it gets more popular worldwide, that it would be considered the “fastest growing.” Twenty years ago, MMA was basically just an idea, and when you fast forward to how big the sport has become in 2013, it actually is pretty remarkable how quickly the sport has gone from unknown to a nationally broadcast sporting event.

But the network deal with Fox and all of the exposure on television is mostly just validating how popular the UFC in particular has become in the United States. It’s tough to gauge international interests based on things like television ratings and pay-per-view buys when they mostly only affect North American stats on the sport.

That’s where the UFC’s international events do the talking for the promotion.

We’re barely three months into 2013, and already the UFC has held events in Brazil, England and Japan, with a card in Canada having just wrapped up yesterday and a trip to Sweden already booked for early April. If you include the United States, that will put the UFC in a total of seven countries before the year is halfway over. That’s a lot of distance covered in less than a six-month span, but the UFC has made it clear that it plans on returning to most of these countries at least one more time before 2013 ends, and that doesn’t even take into account places like Ireland, China and Germany that have already held UFC events and are just waiting for the Octagon to return.

One of White’s quotes that he seems to have on standby whenever he’s asked about the UFC holding an event in a new country is, “We’re going everywhere.” Obviously, that statement isn’t meant to be taken literally, but with places like France, Mexico and countless others all in the market to hold a UFC event soon, White has a plethora of options available to him at the moment.

Wherever the UFC decides to go internationally for the remainder of 2013, it is going to want to keep filling its cards with fighters that spark local interest. Whether it’s someone like Tom Watson in the United Kingdom or Erick Silva in Brazil, the promotion has done a great job at getting fighters the hometown crowds can invest in. However, as the fight cards stack up, the UFC may find itself holding on to certain fighters due to their nationality alone and not their performances inside the cage.

Take UFC on Fuel TV 9’s Papy Abedi, for example. Abedi, a fighter that made his name in the Swedish MMA scene but has struggled during his run inside the Octagon, will fight for the UFC for the third time next month, despite the fact that his previous two fights both ended with Abedi tapping out due to submission in the first round. After seeing fighters like Jon Fitch and Jacob Volkmann get the ax over the last month, it’s hard to believe that Abedi’s popularity in Sweden isn’t the reason he still has a UFC roster spot.

With the UFC already undergoing serious roster cuts at the moment, it isn’t likely going to be able to go out and sign a bunch of new fighters. But it also can’t afford to keep guys on the payroll that no longer deserve their spot, and that could be a major problem for the promotion as it tries to expand its international presence.

There is a solution, however, and all it would take is a little cross-promoting for the UFC. The Zuffa brass has laughed at companies like M-1 Global, which has proposed the idea of cross-promotion with the UFC in the past, but a deal with a smaller company that doesn’t possess a television contract of any sorts would be beneficial for everyone involved.

Replacing the regular UFC preliminary cards in other countries with a Shooto Brazil card in Brazil or a Cage Warriors card in England would breathe some life into each country’s MMA scene as a whole. The stakes of the fights would be higher in the eyes of local fight fans, plus it would allow the UFC to concentrate on making sure it uses its current roster to the fullest extent.

The best part of this deal for the UFC would be its ability to completely shed the co-promotion label by the time it hits the main card. So, even though the entire undercard was filled with talent from a local promotion, the main card would still strictly be a UFC event

For the regional promoters, it gives them more exposure than they could possibly imagine getting on their own and likely sparks local interest in their brand as well. For the UFC, it gives the promotion more fights and fighters to help the UFC keep the pace it is setting internationally, and opens the door for the company to use more big-name fighters in the United States instead of overseas. Toss in the potential to scout local talent without taking the risk of a full commitment to those fighters, and the scenario is all the more enticing.

Sounds like a win-win for everyone involved.

Photo: Saitama Super Arena (Sherdog)

About The Author

Vince Carey
Staff Writer

Vince Carey has been writing about the sport of mixed martial arts since 2010. Although he is just 21 years old, the Omaha-based writer is looking to provide readers with interesting content on all things related to MMA.

  • Robby Collins

    Excellent idea. I wish I could be optimistic however Zuffa is full of control freaks who will balk at this (if not run away screaming). My impression is that the UFC was making all the cuts to open the way for international signings, but that may have just been me trying to find the smallest benefit of the doubt.

    Zuffa no doubt sees cross-promoting as a can of worms they’d rather have someone else experiment with. (i.e. Bjorn Rebney and Co)