Sunday, August 19, 2007

The UFC: the success story of pro sports

By Rick Morris

With the NFL under the shadow of the Michael Vick indictment and the criminal element of Pacman Jones, Tank Johnson and the Cincinnati Bengals, MLB bearing the fruits of longtime steroid tolerance, the NBA suffering under a referee fixing scandal, the NHL all but invisible to the TV public because of putrid broadcast deals and boxing continuing its death spiral through the continued irrelevance of its marquee heavyweight division, sports leagues everywhere are going through downward cycles. But the major organization with the most dramatic growth this decade is thriving and took another huge step Friday towards consolidating its gains.

Ultimate Fighting Championship, or the UFC as it is more commonly known, achieved something UFC President Dana White called "the pinnacle of my seven year career in this company" this week when he locked up former PRIDE champion Wanderlei Silva. As my friends at Pro Karate Weekly have chronicled, Silva amassed a legendary career on the PRIDE circuit after an early stint with UFC. When UFC acquired the remnants of the PRIDE organization earlier this year, White made a bold comparison that may have drawn some snickers when he compared the looming new era in ultimate fighting to the AFL-NFL merger. While any comparison to the behemoth in American sport that is the NFL is a fanciful one for the moment, the direction of the UFC since their difficult early years of being labeled as"human cockfighting" by John McCain has been overwhelmingly impressive. Much of this is due to the implementation of safety reforms installed by the UFC brass, the absence of which was holding back the sport from achieving mainstream appeal. This positioned the company to be financially profitable enough to obtain the PRIDE assets when that company faltered due to its own circumstances.

Now that the UFC is taking advantage of the opportunity to snap up all of the world's top fighters under one banner, we will see heretofore unlikely "dream fights" several times per year. Silva joins Rampage Jackson, Cro Cop and others as fighters now able to be paired in combat with any other top-level competitors in the world. With the difficulties of the aforementioned major sports and the boxing world being choked by the politics which have been conquered by the UFC, within 2-3 years we may be speaking of another entity on the top tier of American sports.

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