What is it about mixed martial arts (MMA) that makes it so contagious? Is it the high-profile stars and loud characters who put on a spectacle? Is it the brave individuals who expose themselves holistically inside the Hexagon, by placing their mental, physical, spiritual and emotional vessels on the line, representing those who don’t have valour or willpower to face their inner most fears and unleash the real champion inside?
Or is it just a sport that people love because of the competitive appeal, or the ability to combine a spectrum of combat arts and tap into each weapon at will?
Some people would argue that most people just love it because of that deep-rooted primal ability of survival.
What intrigues me is that punch of energy from the stands of an MMA event when an underdog rises above the odds.
That rush of fight and animal within that says “I will not give up”, but which we as humans differentiate ourselves from animals by saluting our competitors afterwards, is an act I admire.
Of course, no matter how great a product or idea can be, it will never be as great without a little bit of marketing.
And despite being in existence for a long time, the MMA brand has been catapulted further via social and broadcast media.
“I think globally this sport has just been taking off. If you think back, four or five years ago, nobody even heard of a Conor McGregor (UFC superstar) and everybody knows who he is,” says EFC president, Cairo Howarth of the man who owned two titles in the biggest MMA promotion in the world.
McGregor is that out-there pe rsonality who has taken the sport to another level. The manner in which he believed in himself often left weak-minded fighters doubting themselves, which played a huge role in the psychological game in the build-up to the fight.
And as in life, what goes on in your brain will often determine what plays out through your actions.
He spoke a big game and delivered on the hype most times. McGregor changed the game of the sport in a sense, but he was just a portion of the change.
“And like Conor, the same applies across the board. The sport has just been picking up everywhere,” says Howarth.
“Africa is no exception to the growth. In the last two years, the broadcasting on SABC has been huge. We’ve put huge ratings up last year, having over 20 million South Africans there last year watching the EFC on SABC that is one in three South Africans. It puts us right up there with the most watched sport (rugby, soccer, cricket). Combined with the level of athleticism, the fights have just been getting better.”
Fighters such as Dricus du Plessis and Don Madge are just a few of the local brands who have stepped up on the international stage, proving the potential that African MMA has to offer.
Du Plessis holds two belts in the EFC and will try to reclaim his third belt in the KSW promotion next year, while Madge gave up his lightweight belt to partake in the UFC, which was one successful debut after finishing Te Edwards this year.
Just recently the UFC signed with SuperSport to be broadcast from January 2019. Some could say that it was a sharp move for SuperSport to tap into that market to try and salvage some subscribers, considering the drop in membership due to their ridiculous prices. But they know that there is a major market latched onto the UFC and who knows they might just look at the EFC soon too.
“From an EFC point of view, we have an unbelievable expansion plan across Africa from a TV broadcast point of view.
“Basically what we have seen of exposure of the EFC in South Africa, we want the same across Africa, so we are in discussion with free TV and TV networks where we will be doing deals that will see EFC on free to air television in Nigeria, Angola, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda and everywhere. That is going to see a whole new level of interest not only from a fan point of view, but also from a fighter’s point of view. Our goal in 2019 is to be the second most watched sport in Africa.”
EFC broadcasts live in over 120 countries around the world on numerous television networks in multiple languages.
So who do we thank for this meteoric rise of the sport the MMA bosses, the well-trained fighters, the big personalities, or do we thank the fans, the people who find a connection to that woman or man standing with their hands up ready to face the challenges in front of them?@juliankiewietz