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2011 – The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly (part one)

January 3, 2012 All MMA News, Blogs  Comments 

2011 was a blockbuster year for mixed martial arts; records were broken, stars were born and sea changes dramatically altered the landscape. MMABay puts the kettle on, sits in front of the typewriter and beats back 12-months of Sunday morning hangovers to recount the good, the bad and the ugly of the past year. First up, the good…

The Good: UFC signs with Fox

In a move that may go down as one of the best things to happen to mixed martial arts in its entire history, let alone 2011, the UFC signed a broadcast deal with Fox. Their landmark, groundbreaking deal with Spike TV, which had seen the UFC develop from being a money pit into a hugely popular international entity, had run its course and network TV was the next logical step.

The deal puts the UFC, and via trickle-down effect the entire sport of mixed martial arts, on a higher platform in the public eye. For the sport’s premier brand, it means promotion alongside ‘mainstream’ sports like the NFL, and viewing figures in the multi-millions. The deal encompasses all of Fox’s major networks, with live events already booked for Fox, FX and Fuel TV. This means more live fights, which means greater sponsorship opportunities and exposure for fighters. The deal will also salvage the tired Ultimate Fighter show, reformatting it into three months of live Friday night fights.

As we’ve seen in just about every entertainment venture to have ever existed, success breeds imitation. The UFC/Fox deal will take the biggest name in MMA to a whole new plateau, and the shockwaves will vitalise the industry as new fans seek out MMA action from 18,000 seat stadiums to their local sports club.

Perhaps most importantly for the ‘sport’ of mixed martial arts regular, informed and unbiased coverage on such a mainstream network (UK fans – imagine UFC airing on ITV every Saturday night instead of The X Factor) will ‘normalise’ the sport in the eyes of the general public. We often kid ourselves that people who look down their noses at MMA are just ‘uneducated’ or old fashioned. Like if they suddenly ‘understood the grappling’ they’d fall in love with the sport or that all kids growing up today will prefer MMA to boxing. We need to realise that some people will never come to terms with MMA, just like they can’t see sense in rugby or the NFL. We don’t need all of these people to like MMA for it to be a success, but we do need some of them to tolerate it. UFC on Fox may not convert the masses to MMA, but it will make the sport tolerable to the point that we may once and for all shed that ‘human cockfighting’ moniker.

Runner up: ZUFFA provides free healthcare

While only relevant to the 300 or so fighters under the UFC and Strikeforce banners, the provision of free and fully comprehensive healthcare will be a life changer for many of the world’s top mixed martial artists. Despite being amongst the top 20-30 fighters in their division, many ‘entry level’ UFC athletes struggle to hold down second jobs and are unable to afford proper healthcare due to the exorbitant premiums that their line of work generates.

We’ve heard the horror stories; fighters competing hurt just to pay off previous medical bills, only to further injure themselves and plunge further into financial jeopardy. Zoila Gurgell was forced to ask for fan support to help pay for her knee surgery. And who can forget the story of Joe Stevenson, the TUF winner and six-year UFC vet who had to take a trip south of the boarder so that he could afford surgery.

In May of 2011, Zuffa announced that all fighters under contract to it’s UFC and Strikeforce brands would be covered by an all-inclusive policy. In addition to their usual coverage against damage in the cage, fighters would now be covered against injuries sustained while training for fights, general gym wear and tear and any other accidents that may befall them. Zuffa’s policy means, for those under the Zuffa umbrella at least, no more fighting hurt just to pay the bills, no more trips to Mexico for cheap treatment and peace of mind when stepping into the gym, as well as the Octagon.

Honourable mention: Little guys and big changes

When you talk about a big change, you have to talk about MMA’s wunderkind, Jon Jones. The 24 year-old recently completed the toughest 4-fight, 12-month gauntlet in MMA history, and his stunning amalgamation of striking, grappling, wrestling and athleticism have set a president for the new generation of mixed martial artists. Jones has literally changed the game. Frankie Edgar has finally usurped BJ Penn as the sports premier lightweight, with Gil Melendez and Ben Henderson nipping at his heels. Elsewhere, the little guys have finally hit the big stage, with Urijah Faber, Dominick Cruz, Jose Aldo and Chad Mendez now firmly entrenched as ‘UFC Superstars’ after the promotion introduced Bantam and Featherweight divisions to its roster.

2011: A very good year indeed.

By Brad Wharton. Follow me on Twitter @MMABayBrad

Why not tell us what you think about this story and get your thoughts featured in this week’s edition of MMABay Radio? Email Mailbag@mmabay.co.uk, start the subject with the word ‘RADIO MAILBAG’ and we’ll talk about our favourites on the next show.

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