Former professional MMA fighter believes the sport will soon overtake boxing as most-loved combat

BY SONNY TURNER

For decades boxing has been the number one combat sport, but maybe not for much longer. Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is currently the fastest growing sport in the world. The sport’s central platform, the UFC, has gone from being worth $2 million in 2001 to being sold in 2016 for $4 billion.

What has led to the huge boom in MMA popularity? Will it overtake boxing? To find out, Overtime sought the help of former professional MMA fighter, 2019 Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ) European Bronze medallist and owner of the Team Ryano Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and MMA gym, Mick ‘Basher’ Brennan to try and find out.

Like most phenomena, MMA’s rise cannot be pinned down to one cause. “I would put it down to a combination of things,” said Brennan, echoing that sentiment. “Big shows like Pride, Strikeforce and Bellator helped build MMA popularity alongside the UFC. But UFC has remained the top MMA show since the beginning of mixed martial arts. Through great marketing, social media & big sponsorships for pay per views and fighters it has definitely helped the popularity of the sport. UFC and Bellator in particular have had a big increase on promotion over the last few years.

“People now have a better understanding of the sport; rule set, and training, for example, that’s involved, not to mention it’s an exciting combat sport to watch. People also have way more access to view fights through Spike TV, Fox Sports, BT Sport, as well as attending live shows. It’s the most popular combat sport in the world.”

Brennan also believes that the sport’s popularity has grown as opportunities for participation have increased. “MMA and BJJ training and training facilities have increased tremendously all over the world, which allows more and more people to engage and be part of the MMA world. This results in continuous growth for the sport as more people get involved, more facilities are opened, and so the cycle is perpetual.”

In addition to the ever-increasing exposure the MMA world is receiving, Brennan also believes that the rise in popularity is down to people’s increasing desire to know how to defend themselves.

He said: “Self-defence is one of the reasons MMA popularity has risen, in particular Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Most people can’t believe how effective MMA and BJJ are until after their first class, then they are hooked.”

There is no doubt that it is younger generations who are primarily driving MMA’s success, and as the owner of an MMA gym, Brennan knows first-hand what is attracting them to the sport. “The young generation are intrigued with a few different elements of MMA. It has the cool factor. It’s a new challenge. They may already be a fan of watching MMA.”

When further questioned on the possibility that young people may be getting involved in the sport as a result of it being the closest possible combat sport to a street fight, and so possibly the most ‘realistic’ combat sport, Brennan said: “I think the young generation aren’t attracted to MMA because it resembles a street fight, they are attracted by the extreme skillset and athleticism of some of the world’s best MMA fighters they watch on TV. It’s the wow factor.”

Despite continuing success, MMA is still seen as secondary in popularity terms to boxing. However, the rapid growth of MMA could see it become number one, sooner rather than later. On this Brennan said: “There is a lot more money in boxing. I definitely think MMA could overtake boxing in popularity. It’s possibly already in the process, but financially it’s still way behind.”

Regardless of being financially behind, there are many aspects in which MMA is already superior to boxing, none more prominent than its governance. Take the UFC for example, one champion per weight class, compared to boxing’s farcical number of champions per weight class (there are four ‘major’ world titles in each division).

When questioned on whether this could lead to fans preferring MMA to boxing, Brennan replied: “Yes. There is one Champion in each weight class which simply means that one person is the very best of that particular division. In boxing I feel there are too many championships, promotions, etc. It would definitely be one of many reasons MMA would overtake boxing in popularity.”

Brennan believes this could also be a key to becoming the number one combat sport: “MMA has a good reputation in regards to referees, judges, decisions etc. This could potentially make people prefer MMA over boxing eventually.”

On the occasion where viewers were able to witness MMA and boxing go head to head, the boxing match between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor, boxing seemingly claimed victory, with Mayweather claiming a TKO victory.

Looking deeper at ‘The Biggest Fight in Combat Sports History’, it is possible to suggest that MMA taking over is a sign of things to come, with a UFC fighter producing the second highest ever pay-per- view takings for a boxing match.

When posed this argument, Brennan, a former fighter himself, replied: “I think it was more of a case of boxing’s biggest name vs MMA’s biggest name going to go at it for the very first time ever, which made it very interesting & made people really want to see what would happen. It’s possibly a sign of things to come in the long run.”

MMA’s rise in such a short period has seen it reap huge rewards, but will it become the number one combat sport in the world?

(Feature image: Sonny Turner)

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