Despite obscure beginnings, the UFC has successfully introduced the world of MMA to mainstream audiences around the globe. So, how did the UFC grow from a fringe sport to a popular competition?

Here are some of the reasons why UFC is so popular today:

  1. The fighters and their stories
  2. The Ultimate Fighter
  3. MMA is unpredictable
  4. Sports betting and fantasy MMA
  5. Diverse competition
  6. Lack of barriers
  7. Bruce Buffer
  8. Social media presence
  9. Dana White 
  10. Accessibility

Let’s dive into what’s fueling the sport’s rapid growth and why you should watch it if you aren’t already.

The Fighters and Their Stories

While most sports have you rooting for a team, MMA focuses on the individual. The UFC knows this and does a stellar job of highlighting each fighter’s unique past and story. Fans remember how Daniel Cormier started his legendary career at 30 or how Michael Bisping became champion with one eye.

Fighters have camps and gyms, but they represent themselves in the octagon above all else. As a result, they also have a freedom of expression not enjoyed by many other athletes. This freedom is partially why UFC fighters are famous for their larger-than-life personalities.

The Ultimate Fighter

Speaking of stories, you can’t recount the UFC’s without mentioning The Ultimate Fighter. This TV series pits rising talents in a fighting tournament until only one martial artist remains. The winner’s reward is a coveted UFC contract.

The Ultimate Fighter truly revolutionized sports promotion and television, humanizing the athletes like no other sport had. It was so successful that many credit the season one finale, Griffin vs. Bonnar, with saving the early UFC

You can see this electrifying battle, which created thousands of new MMA fans, on YouTube.

MMA Is Unpredictable

MMA is thrilling! It has arguably the smallest margin of error in any sport. Every mistake can mean a swift defeat as fighters can’t make up point deficits if they’re unconscious.

The fact that a fight can end at any second from a lucky shot keeps fans on the edge of their seat. It also means that seemingly invincible champions often meet surprising losses from rising stars.

Not to mention the sport is still relatively new and rapidly evolving. Wheel kicks, suplexes, D’arce chokes: there are countless ways a fight might end, and the list is only growing.

Sports Betting and Fantasy MMA

It’s no surprise that there’s money to be made in MMA. After all, the world’s highest-paid athlete in 2021 is none other than UFC martial artist Connor McGregor. However, you might not realize that sports betting on the UFC continues to grow as quickly as the sport itself.

One of the big appeals of MMA sports betting is flexibility. Gamblers can make numerous different spread bets since the sport has a plethora of possible results. 

Another draw is that UFC fights regularly have massive disparities in betting odds between fighters. These gaps in odds give gamblers ample opportunity to score huge payouts by betting on underdogs.

Diverse Competition

MMA is the 3rd most popular sport globally, and around 85% of the audience is outside of the USA. As a result, the UFC owes much of its popularity to its sheer diversity. Martial artists hail from all corners of the globe, championing the unique fighting styles of their home cultures. 

Furthermore, fighters like Ronda Rousey helped smash the glass ceiling on women’s MMA through the UFC. Today, there are four different women’s UFC divisions that are equally as exciting as the mens’.

Lack of Barriers

Part of the reason why the UFC is so popular is that martial arts are very accessible. They have existed across cultures for centuries and require little to no equipment. This broad accessibility contrasts to sports like golf or Formula One, which historically have significant economic barriers to participation. 

There are countless stories of fighters rising from humble beginnings to carve lasting MMA legacies. Even without a dedicated MMA gym, newcomers can start by learning specific martial arts (like Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu or Boxing) as a base.

Bruce Buffer

Bruce Buffer is both the most famous UFC announcer and one of the greatest announcers of all time. Even if you’re not a UFC fan, you can watch this video and still probably recognize his famous catchphrase: “It’s time!”

His explosive voice and extravagant suits are part of the DNA of the UFC, and the hype he brings to events is unmistakable. Even the fighters themselves often seem electrified by Buffer’s dramatic introductions. 

Many long-time fans might not realize Bruce Buffer’s skills come with a pedigree. Bruce is the brother of announcer Michael Buffer, who has his own famous saying: “Let’s get ready to rumble!”

Social Media Presence

Saying UFC is big on social media is an understatement. Former UFC Champion Khabib Nurmagomedov, for example, is the most followed Russian on Instagram.

Fighters are known for heated rivalries, a tradition stretching back to boxers like Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. UFC fighters have taken this tradition into the modern age by flaunting their feuds to the world via social media.

These public rivalries are great for fight promotion and help drum up fan excitement. Not to mention that the fighters often match their “bark” with their “bite” in the octagon.

Dana White

MMA would not be the global phenomenon it is today without UFC President Dana White. 

Spearheading the organization since 2001, White is undoubtedly a controversial figure. Whether he’s feuding with celebrities or deflecting questions about fighter pay, he regularly grabs headlines. 

However, under his leadership, the organization has matured into the respected promotion it is today. It’s for this reason that even his critics must admit that White is an incredibly successful promoter. After all, he is one of the driving forces that pushed MMA into the mainstream.

Love him or hate him, he is a significant figure in the history of the UFC and MMA as a whole. 

Accessibility

After hearing the reasons why the UFC is so popular, you might wonder how you can watch it yourself. If so, you’re in luck – watching UFC events from past and present has never been easier, which has also helped grow the sport significantly.

With an ESPN+ subscription, you can watch all the non-PPV cards streamed online via the ESPN+ app. You can also use the app to purchase and watch PPV events.

Hardcore fans should also check out UFC Fight Pass. It gives you access to bonus UFC content, shows, and a library of past fights.