Mixed Martial Arts cannot seem to get over its image problem. The sport whose popularity has exploded in recent years still cannot seem to get past the simple fact that many still view it as barbaric and overly aggressive. The recent fights that broke out in the crowds in the McGregor Khabib fight don’t do much to tackle this problem. In fact, UFC’s biggest star Conor McGregor seems to just be damaging the image of the sport more and more with his antics, including attacking a bus earlier this year.
While the modern world and pay-per-view systems mean that MMA and UFC do not necessarily need the support of the mainstream to be profitable, the fact remains that their growth is curtailed by their inability to gain mainstream acceptance worldwide. This can be shown on a small scale here in Ireland where major MMA events are still a rarity, and events still get shut down as venues fear the safety implications of hosting such tournaments. All of this happening while one of the most famous practitioners of MMA in the world is Irish.
MMA has been trying to clean up its act and break into the mainstream for a while now. More safety rules and medical checks have been introduced with fighters arguably being in the safest positions they even could be getting into the ring. And yet that doesn’t seem to be doing much to address the concerns of those booking venues or providing insurance.
Perhaps most worryingly is the danger it poses to those who are trying to get involved at an amateur level. Amatures are at the end of the day the lifeblood of a sport and where all new talent starts. But the disjointed nature of MMA and lack of visibility in the mainstream means that the numbers of amateurs aren’t really translating into more tournaments and more professional fighters.
Maybe the simple fact is that MMA doesn’t have the room to grow because at the end of the day there are so many other options out there. On any given day there are dozens of sporting events taking place worldwide with each one competing not only for bodies to compete but also viewers. MMA has its flashes of massive popularity around its biggest names clashing, but its smaller format means that those smaller fights won’t draw the same crowds as say a mid-tier football team clash.
Perhaps if MMA was to adjust its expectations and try and keep the negative headlines to a minimum, it can secure the corner of the sports market that it has, and make another run at breaking into the mainstream again down the line.
By Aaron Bowman – CoEditor