Blood, Guts and Money; Don't Look Now, but Mixed Martial Arts Has Gone Mainstream

Newsweek, October 9, 2006 | Go to article overview

Blood, Guts and Money; Don't Look Now, but Mixed Martial Arts Has Gone Mainstream


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CORRECTION: Correction: Our story "Blood, Guts and Money" (Oct. 9) contained an outdated domestic-revenue figure for WWE's 2006 WrestleMania event. The correct figure is $31.8 million. NEWSWEEK regrets the error.

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Byline: Julie Scelfo

When the first "ultimate fighters" kicked, punched and head-butted each other on national television 13 years ago, civilized observers responded with shock and disgust. The pay-per-view tournament matched kickboxers, judo artists and Brazilian jujitsu fighters, and saw so many broken bones and bloody injuries that John McCain dubbed it "human cockfighting" and called for its abolishment.

Now the brutal business known as Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has become one of the most successful and lucrative new sporting ventures in decades, routinely eclipsing the NBA, NHL and MLB in cable ratings among the coveted 18-34 set. According to in-dustry sources, UFC's most successful pay-per-view event this year generated more than $30 million in revenue, a sum that beats WrestleMania's $23 million haul and HBO's typical $16 million from a night of boxing. A hit UFC reality show has transformed Spike TV into one of the top-five cable networks for young men. Sportswriters have begun covering it too, acknowledging the extreme athleticism of competitors. Bernard Fernandez in the Philadelphia Daily News wrote: "I no longer can look the other way."

The transformation of an underground fighting fad to a multimillion-dollar sports industry was due to the vision of Dana White, a former amateur boxer, who saw business potential where others saw savage brutality. In partnership with casino moguls Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta, White acquired the UFC franchise in 2001 and set out to make mixed martial arts "the next NASCAR."

For a while, it looked as if his dream was down for the count. Fans loved the no-holds-barred combat--action that, unlike WWE wrestling, isn't staged. They loved the scrappy, mohawk-wearing warriors with nicknames like "Chainsaw. …

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