With the announcement of an aggressive plan for UFC expansion into international markets, a gameplan to grow the sport in Latin America was a no-brainer. UFC brass love to throw around the term “starving market” when referring to places of interest. These MMA deprived markets are the focus of the torrid pace to bring live UFC events to every corner of globe.
While the term may suit areas like the Middle East, Europe and pockets of Africa and Asia, countries like Mexico in Latin America have a healthy supply of prize-fighting events as well as an eager fanbase. So why not just put a regular PPV there instead of launching another “tired” edition of The Ultimate Fighter?
NEW MARKETS, OLD FORMULA
The ultimate goal of Ultimate Fighting Championship is to have a “Fight Series” specific to each market (i.e. Asian, Latin America, European, etc.) where each series features shows filled with a few established, big names, but mostly local fighters. By sticking to local heroes, they hope to create a following exclusive to each market. This “grass roots” way of building fighters isn’t anything new to prize fighting. What separates the UFC from previous tactics found in other fight promotions is the famous UFC brand attached to shows. The brand alone has already created deals with television networks to air live shows on a regular basis. This ensures that the UFC brand is present year round, and doesn’t have to rely on a single big show every year or two.
So, put the brand in place and the right fighters will find their way to compete on the shows. The UFC is banking on the potential to turn some of these hungry “of the people” competitors into big UFC stars, thanks mostly in part to the very fanbases who built them. Brazil is the best example of how a mature fight market can take a TUF competitor from local fighter to national hero and (hopefully) beyond: a UFC fighter with global drawing power.
ENTER TUF LATIN AMERICA, UFC 180
TUF Latin America’s debut to strong ratings, in addition to a UFC 180 Cain Velasquez vs. Fabricio Werdum sellout in 8 hours, make this part of the expansion plan look like the perfect atmosphere for UFC success.
Adding the heavyweight champion, Cain Velasquez (#3 pound-for-pound) as a one half of the TUF coaching pair doesn’t hurt either.
It’s hard to deny the talent of the All-Mexican side coached by Velasquez. Many are deep into their MMA careers, with experience in America as well. With a roster full of fighters who exhibit the prototypical “Mexican warrior” spirit in the octagon, it’s also hard to deny that a few of these guys won’t attract popularity in the UFC.
What makes this version of TUF special is the selection of the surging Fabricio Werdum (#1 heavyweight contender) as the coach opposite Cain Velasquez. A Brazilian coaching a team with representatives from several nations in Latin America sounds a bit funky. However, Werdum has made things look effortless this past year. Not only has he impressed Dana White and matchmaker Joe Silva with his performances inside the octagon, his skills on the mic and the ability to speak fluent Spanish make him a terrific leader for the tough group of hungry, but less experienced team.
Markets so far are following the blueprint for how the U.S. fanbase was built. The initial success of TUF Latin America is promising news for the UFC, who are looking to create a splash in that market as part of their self-described quest for world domination. What better way than to have your two best heavyweights slug it out for the biggest prize in MMA, in the biggest city of a country that loves fighting.
Velasquez and Werdum will meet on November 15 in the main event at UFC 180 in Mexico City, with a card that also includes Latin American stars Ricardo Lamas, Dennis Bermudez, Diego Sanchez, Kelvin Gastelum, plus the TUF Latin America finales.
The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America is available to U.S. fans in both English and Spanish on FOX Deportes and UFC Fight Pass. Don’t forget to pick up an official UFC TUF Latin America Cain Velasquez Jersey or the TUF Latin America Fabricio Werdum Team Jersey!