main·stream • m?n?str?m • noun
The ideas, attitudes, or activities that are regarded as normal or conventional; the dominant trend in opinion, fashion, or the arts.
Modern mixed martial arts started in 1993 as a spectacle. Under the direction of Art Davie, the marketing once notoriously proclaimed "anything can happen, even death!" Even more notoriously, Sen. John McCain labelled the sport "human cockfighting," and it was banned in many states, and driven even from PPV.
The sport reached such depths that the now defunct Ultimate Athlete magazine wrote “If not for the Underground forum … the sport might have died as PPV buy rates had sunk to such abysmal levels.”
The in 2001, Dana White and the Fertitta brothers purchased the league.
They brought in professional marketers, and created prefessional media, and put it in Maxim mag. We were stunned.
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However, what then looked like MMA entering the mainstream, now looks, well, not very mainstream.
Then came the most important fight in the sport's history, 2005's Stephan Bonnar vs. Forrest Griffin, during the finals of The Ultimate Fighter 1. The owners had financed the reality series, doubling down on a money losing effort.
And things turned around. The UFC is now the world's most valuable sports franchise.
In 2011, the UFC signed a $700,000,000 deal with FOX Sports, and fans thought the sport was perhaps finally mainstream.
However, at the time, White told UFC staff that they weren't there.
"We're not mainstream yet," said White. "Now's the time to dig in and work. If we pull this thing off, we will be mainstream."
"We live in a bubble in our offices and take it for granted people know what armbars, guillotines, and triangle chokes are -- nobody knows what this means. We have to view it as if nobody knows anything about this sport."
During a media conference call to promote UFC Fight For The Troops on Wednesday and UFC Fight Night: Belfort vs. Henderson on Saturday, White said we're still not there, yet.
“It takes a long time,” said White. “We’ve only been here for 13 years and we really didn’t even start kicking until 2005, 2006.”
White told a story about sitting with his kids in seats on the 50-yard line at Gillette Stadium over the weekend to watch his New England Patriots play the Pittsburgh Steelers. He got to talking to one of the fans sitting right behind him and the fan--a 30-something man right smack in the middle of the UFC’s target demographic--had no idea what the Ultimate Fighting Championship was.
“He didn’t even know Chandler Jones’ brother was the champ of the UFC. He was asking me if it was regional.”
“It’s a big world out there, man,” White said.
Results of UFC events are still not put in most major metropolitan newspapers the same way that MLB, NFL, NBA and NHL games are. The UFC isn’t covered on your local nightly news sportscast either.
Those things, White said, are also indicators that the UFC hasn’t risen to that level yet. It also means the organization still has significant growth potential – if people don’t know what it is, how can they determine whether or not they like it?
“For us to claim that we’re mainstream, we’re just not,” White said.
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