Brazil a booming market for Mixed Martial Arts

Thu Jul 5, 2012 12:29pm EDT
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By Andrew Downie

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - To the uninitiated, Mixed Martial Arts is the end of civilization, two barbarians beating the living daylights out each other under the guise of sport.

But to fans, and increasingly to sports entrepreneurs, MMA is a fast-growing global enterprise and nowhere more so than in Brazil, the world's sixth-largest economy and home to three of its seven world champions.

"Brazil is far and away the most vibrant market in every one of the developments; tickets, TV ratings, merchandising, digital, even mobile business, and it is one of our fastest growing social media markets in the world," said Marshall Zelaznik, Managing Director of International Development for the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), the best-known of the sport's governing bodies.

Brazil has gone from being MMA's fifth-biggest market to the third-biggest, behind the United States and Canada, in less than two years, Zelaznik said.

"Brazil has more UFC fans than any other country in the world," he added. "We have over 20 million people watching a televised event at midnight. Companies are interested and they realize there is big consumer demand. I can tell you that there is not a meeting that goes by here at the UFC where Brazil is not discussed."

The success of the sport is no great surprise, given its origins here. An amalgam of everything from judo to wrestling to Thai boxing, some of the MMA's earliest and most successful exponents were experts in Brazilian jiu-jitsu, a self-defense martial art based on locks and choke holds.

The Gracie family of Rio de Janeiro helped popularize the sport and were among the first to compete in the hybrid bouts among proponents of the different disciplines.

What was then known as "Vale Tudo" ("Anything Goes") has soared in popularity in recent years thanks to the UFC. As in boxing, several organizations vie to control the sport but the UFC franchise is the biggest. It has sanitized and regulated a sport that was -- and remains violent -- and also helped monetize it.   Continued...