Aug 22, 2011, 6:08 PM EDT
UFC President Dana White has said for years that the UFC will one day be the biggest sport in the world. I’ve always believed that statement because fighting is the easiest sport to understand and translates across all cultures, unlike football or soccer, which have trouble crossing the border.
One giant step in that direction was making it to prime time network television, which White always said would happen once the “right deal” came along. That deal came last week, when a seven-year agreement with FOX was announced. Four major events per year will be aired on the network, with other UFC events and programming to be shown on FOX-owned FX and Fuel.
“This is what I always wanted, what I always thought was the pinnacle for us,” White told Sports Illustrated. “This partnership is going to take this sport to the next level. Those people that thought I was a lunatic, saying this was going to be the biggest sport in the world, this is the next step.”
Before the deal was even announced, former light heavyweight champ Vitor Belfort came out to proclaim that the sport would soon be more popular in Brazil than soccer. Yes, soccer. In Brazil. A Brazilian athlete said that.
“Listen to this, I know it sounds crazy, but we’re going to overcome soccer in Brazil in three years,” he said. “And I know that for a fact because wherever UFC goes, [it] overcomes everybody. I’m not a crazy dreamer. This is reality. UFC, get ready.”
Anybody in any part of the world can watch a UFC fight today and understand 90 percent of what’s going on. The same can’t be said for a sport like football, as immensely popular as it is in the U.S. You don’t need to review a rule book to understand that the guy getting punched in the head isn’t winning. My grandma, horrified as she may be, can tell when a nice young man’s arm is bending the wrong way. The intricacies can be learned later. It’s a fight. It’s the oldest sport on earth, it’s only recently been recognized as one. Drunks are competing every weekend in local bars.
White continues to believe they’ve only scratched the surface of how popular the sport can be. Crazy to think so, but I say he’s right. The UFC’s world takeover may have just begun.
“This isn’t the end, because we still have a lot of work to do,” White said. “Millions of people have never seen the UFC. That’s hard for guys like you and me to believe, because we exist in this tiny bubble, but not only is the UFC not mainstream yet, it’s not even close. This is an opportunity for us to take it to that next level.
“This is another platform and a way we can let people know that these are the greatest athletes in the world and that this is the greatest sport in the world. I always say that once you see your first live fight, you’re hooked, but I think just getting this out to as many people as we’re going to be able to reach as a result of this deal can’t be overstated.”
Previously in The Beatdown …
Tim Gilmour is a sports reporter and author of the humor blog LetMeThinkForYou.com. His column appears each Monday. For more NBCSports.com MMA coverage, click here.
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