I don’t want to go down the whole ‘it’s just the best sport in the world ever’ reasoning path in order to fluff out this article, so I'll try to be as specific as possible as to why fantasy has blown up within MMA.
If you didn’t see this coming, you’ve been living under a podcasting rock. Joe Rogan’s absolutely gigantic audience has always been inexorably linked to MMA, whether they want to be or not. Joe Rogan is a mixed martial arts fanatic, and continuously cuts unrelenting promotions about the UFC, and the sport as a whole. As he has gained popularity on a global level, he’s brought the sport with him, and its athletes.
As he’s not allowed to make bets or picks himself, instead he brings the athletes onto his shows and immerses himself in the granularity of the sport, discussing everything from camps to striking particulars, with emphasis on the fighter’s strengths and weaknesses.
He makes making picks a lot easier, and for the general public, making educated choices has become far easier, as opposed to simply looking at the odds.
A company bought for $2m a couple of decades ago, which was then sold to Endeavour for $4bn in 2016, which is now going to be merged with WWE in a deal worth a staggering $20bn… simply put, the UFC is the fastest growing promotion in sports history.
With a corporate owner like Endeavour, ye ol’ ‘cage fighting’ became legitimate overnight. People like the Rock, Ben Affleck, Halle Berry and a whole other list of superstars suddenly started showing up. Even Drake makes picks on the headline fights.
This has been a rapid turn of events for a company often overlooked by the world’s biggest sports brands for partnerships, which turned over a $1bn last year.
Worth noting Endeavour also owns companies like WME, the global leading agency in sports, entertainment and fashion… suddenly getting celebs to chat about an event and make a few picks here and there became a hell of a lot easier.
Unless you’re in the military, fighting fires or some other front line public servant, engaging with the MMA world is as close as a lot of us will ever come to the ‘thrill of fear’, bred out of us by years of fairly safe and easy living.
Hundred of years ago, the Western world was not all bells and social media whistles, It was a place of grim battles fought with swords and axes. Your children would usually end up catching some sort of disease, and if the village next to you didn’t like you and had more manpower… see ya!
As things have become easier, it doesn’t mean our carnal brains have changed along with them. Evolution doesn’t work like that. We still have the flight or fight mechanism ingrained in us, and as 90% require neither, we live vicariously through others.
Enter MMA, the timely resurfacing of gladiatorial combat with the remnants of a history semi-forgotten and lived only by the brave.
MMA fantasy is not just the ability to make a few bets with your friends, it’s the opportunity to digitally sit alongside the warriors of today, cageside, goring out and fantasising over sanctioned blood letting. Don’t believe me? Tell me why this fight is the most popular ever, and then check the comments. Blood. Lust.
‘Oh so you can throw a good right hand? Hold my non-alcoholic beer’ said the influx of Dagestani combatants who entered into the UFC with reckless abandon over the last 7 years.
With tennis, you win by making sure the other player can’t return the ball. Sorted.
With boxing, you win by outpointing or switching off your opponent’s lights.
With MMA, you win by striking the opponent until they can’t regain consciousness quickly enough to carry on, by making your opponent tap in order to retain a limb, signalling a submission to the ref, by making someone’s blood stop going to their brain and finally, and sometimes the most horrendous…beating the brakes off them for 25 minutes straight and letting the judges score it. How’s it scored? Most damage and control. NICE.
There are hundreds of BJJ submissions, there are also hundreds of variations of strikes you can throw. Unlike boxing, you can use your elbows, shoulders, knees, shins and feet. It’s a smorgasbord of brutal martial artistry.
It’s like comparing a cool poster with the entire works of Harry Potter. Other types of fantasy betting simply cannot compete with the depth of MMA.
Though a gigantic sport, MMA is still not the NBA or the NFL. The UFC has over 500 different athletes who compete individually, they are not bolstered by the press coverage a top tier team would get, they’re on their own.
So what? Well, this generally means that the athlete can only get media and more money by doing two things. Firstly, winning in brutal style over and over again. Or secondly, being an absolute media hound from day one, calling out everyone and going on every podcast, becoming a favourite or a heel and drawing enough eyes and ears whereby the UFC decides to put you on a main card. If you’re Conor Mcgregor you can do both and sail off on your Lamborghini powerboat into the Ibizan sunset.
With only 18% of revenue going to fighter purses, as opposed to over 50% in other sports, the fighters NEED the fans to get on board with them so they can get new partnerships, endorsements and look like a PPV option to the UFC.
With this need comes more media. The fans get to see their athletes so much more in the world of MMA than any other. Unlike other sports, an MMA fan will find themselves routing for the victory or vicious downfall of athletes far more. With this, naturally, comes more fantasy picks.
These are just some of the reasons for the massive growth we’ve seen in the last few years, but with an ever expanding roster and new event locations being announced almost monthly, there’ll continue to be explosive growth for the foreseeable.