Pictured is the UFC’s debut in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada (Photo Credit: Craig Allen / Fight Night Picks)
Shocking news on Sunday night as it was announced that Japanese combat sports promotion RIZIN will be featuring a bout between homegrown star Tenshin Nasukawa and one of the most recognizable boxers in the modern era, Floyd Mayweather Jr. This announcement brought an end to possible Mayweather-Khabib Nurmagomedov rumours, further solidifying the growing trend of MMA’s global expansion. For the time being, both fans and media alike have been left wondering whether the Mayweather-Nasukawa fight will fall under boxing, kickboxing or MMA rules. But for RIZIN, the attention surrounding the possible super-fight has thrust the promotion into the spotlight.
It has to be noted that the news has almost overshadowed the UFC’s latest MSG card, UFC 230, as well as the promotion’s recent announcement of their first quarter event plans for 2019. Over the past year the MMA landscape has been shifted by growing players such as Poland’s KSW, the Kingdom of Bahrain’s Brave CF, and Singapore’s ONE Championship to name a few. With ONE’s acquisitions of top talent the likes of Eddie Alvarez, Demetrious Johnson and possibly Sage Northcutt, the UFC has been both depleted of top talent but also losing ground in key markets.
In RIZIN’s case, this won’t mark the first time the promotion has dabbled outside of traditional MMA contests, featuring tag-team grappling matches, an Openweight Grand Prix and shootboxing. Names such as Fedor Emelianenko, Mirko Cro-Cop, Kyoji Horiguchi and Gabi Garcia have also been featured by the promotion. As recently as September, Horiguchi took on Nasukawa in a three-round kickboxing contest that saw the 20-year old superstar continue his 27 fight unbeaten streak.
Bellator has brought the idea of tournament style brackets into play, including competitions for its heavyweight and welterweight belts in 2018. This year also marked the debut of the Professional Fighters League, NBC’s relaunch of World Series of Fighting, which features a regular season and playoff format similar to traditional North American sports such as hockey, basketball and the like.
Bellator’s Heavyweight Grand Prix has brought plenty of attention to the promotion, whose DAZN deal also surprised fans in 2018 (Photo Credit: Bellator MMA)
In a year where promotions such as New England Fights have added new weight classes, KSW bolstered its roster with bodybuilders and stars from other areas of entertainment, while Brave CF has begun its global expansion. One has to wonder how the world’s largest MMA promotion will react.
Shortly after UFC 230, it was announced that the company’s 2019 roll-out will include dates in Brazil, England and cities within the United States. But global fight fans have to wonder when they’ll be able to experience the UFC first hand. UFC Senior Vice President of International Content, David Shaw spoke with media following UFC Fight Night 138 in Moncton, saying that the promotion will look to expand in Russia, China and Central America in the coming year.
David Shaw touched on the UFC’s Canadian plans in 2019, as highlighted in last week’s episode of Fight Night Picks
For the coming year, 2019 will be full of challenges, some based on logistics and others stemming from its multi-year deal with sports giant ESPN. As other organizations continue to look for new talent, and come up with new ways of entertaining fans, the UFC’s model continues to focus on an older pay-per-view model and traditional matchmaking. As of now, the biggest story heading into the new year seems to be a potential heavyweight super-fight between current champion Daniel Cormier and Brock Lesnar at UFC 235, which has polarized the organization’s fan base. However, Cormier has already stated that the Lesnar fight will be his last, and it is doubtful that the WWE star Lesnar will remain active with the UFC considering his previous stretch of performances.
With an ever-expanding fan base, what will the UFC have to do in order to regain key markets in 2019?