With the sport of MMA surging in popularity, there are a lot of knowledgeable fans out there. However, for those who are just getting into the sport, things can be a bit confusing. There are many organizations, weight classes and fighters to get to know, for instance. This article will help new fans acclimate themselves to the sport, and other fans may even learn something new, as well.
You probably already know about the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship), which is far and away the most popular and successful MMA organization in the world. However, you may have heard about other promotions, like Strikeforce, World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC), Sengoku, Dream, and more. What do these organizations have to offer, what differences exist between them and the UFC, and so forth? Read on for answer to many of those questions.
The UFC is synonymous with the sport, to the point where many refer to MMA as “ultimate fighting” instead. Of course, the UFC is a brand name, and there is much to be seen outside of that particular company. Still, the UFC holds more events than any other promotion, attracts more pay-per-view buys and ticket sales than the others, and definitely has the best all-around roster in the sport. You may have even heard of Dana White, the high profile president of the UFC, who has helped pave the way for the company’s success with his, um…”unique” management style. White is brilliant at marketing the sport, but he also is infamous for occasional profanity-laden tirades and public feuds with some of his fighters. The Fertitta brothers put up the money to buy the company from former owner SEG, and Lorenzo Fertitta is still very hands-on with the running of the UFC, as well.
When they bought the UFC, things were not looking so good. Many states had banned MMA and vilified it because of the lack of rules and the way the sport had initially been marketed by SEG. While SEG had already started instituting some rules, like the mandatory wearing of gloves and the installment of a couple of weight classes, Zuffa (the name for the group running the UFC now) took it to the next level with their “Ultimate Fighter” reality show on Spike TV and other promotional efforts.
Still, that’s not to say that there aren’t any good fighters outside of the UFC. Quite the opposite, in fact. Strikeforce, which is the second-leading domestic promotion to the UFC juggernaut, has quite a few top ten fighters, including the consensus #1 heavyweight fighter in the world for many years now, Fedor Emelianenko. Fedor has one defeat in his entire career, which was on a fluky stoppage due to a cut he suffered. He avenged that loss later, and has never been knocked out, submitted, or defeated by decision.
Joining Fedor as Strikeforce’s top fighters include middleweights Jake Shields, Nick Diaz, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and Robbie Lawler, light heavyweight Gegard Mousasi, lightweights Josh Thomson and Gilbert Melendez, and the newly-acquired Dan Henderson, among others. Henderson made news recently for being the first high profile free agent to leave the UFC for Strikeforce, and he will fight in at least two of Strikeforce’s weight divisions.
Strikeforce has the same rules as the UFC, and is governed by the same athletic commissions. Therefore, when you watch a Strikeforce event, the rounds will be the same length, the referees will be familiar faces (they are assigned by athletic commissions, not employed by specific organizations), and everything else will be similar. You will notice the cage is different, as the UFC has trademarked the “Octagon” cage that they use, but that’s about it. There is one other notable difference- that Strikeforce is the first major U.S. promotion to feature women’s divisions, complete with champions. Strikeforce is available on Showtime for now, with regular shows on CBS and an eye to return to pay-per-view at some point down the road.
Another prominent U.S. promotion is the WEC, which is actually owned by Zuffa, as well. Therefore, they are not in competition with the UFC. Also, their weight classes do not really overlap the UFC’s, as they have bantamweights (135 lbs.), featherweights (145 lbs.), and lightweights (155 lbs.). The UFC, on the other hand (as well as Strikeforce) feature lightweights, welterweights (170 lbs.), middleweights (185 lbs.), light heavyweights (205 lbs.) and heavyweights (265 lbs.).
Make no mistake about it, though- the WEC is not a “minor league”. Many of the top fighters in the world at the lighter weight classes compete in the WEC, including Jose Aldo, Miguel Torres, Urijah Faber, Brian Bowles, Mike Brown, and more. Outside of Japanese organizations, you won’t find better bantamweights and featherweights anywhere, and the WEC is known for having very exciting, high-paced fights.
In Japan, there are two major promotions that stand out right now: Sengoku and Dream. Both are somewhat similar in a number of ways. They utilize a ring like you would see in boxing (although Dream has used a cage before), and they have a heavy emphasis towards showmanship, for example. Japanese fans love extravagant entrances, production and an aura of spectacle, which give these organizations a different flavor than the U.S. ones.
Some of the rules have historically been different in Japan, too. Going back to the Pride Fighting Championships (the organization that came the closest to rivaling the UFC before closing down a few years ago) days, many rules were different in Japanese organizations than in American ones. For instance, knees to the head are normally allowed on a grounded opponent, as are kicks to the head. Other rules, like round times and the scoring system (Pride in particular was famous for having judges that scored entire bouts as a whole rather than round-by-round, which was actually probably superior) are different in many Japanese organizations, as well.
Serious MMA fans should not write off what happens in Japan. Many of MMA’s best and most exciting fighters, like Shinya Aoki and Joachim Hansen, fight in the land of the rising sun.
You should also know that many organizations tend to work together and even lend their fighters to one another. Strikeforce in particular is known for exchanging fighters with Dream, and are much more open to working with overseas promoters than the UFC is, as the UFC does not allow their fighters to compete elsewhere when under contract. The UFC did work with Pride in the past, but did not feel as if Pride reciprocated, and once the popularity of the company exploded with the first season of “The Ultimate Fighter”, there has been little reason for the UFC to change their policy.
There is some basic information to get you started as an MMA fan who wants to broaden his or her horizons past what the UFC offers. There is a lot to know, but there is a lot of fun to be had following such a great sport, and each of these organizations has a lot to offer to MMA fans new and old alike. Even your local MMA promotions are a great way to enjoy the sport up close and personal, all while you support the sport at the grassroots level.