Most sports fans will spend Thanksgiving around the television watching the Dallas Cowboys or Detroit Lions game. Watching football on Turkey Day is a cultural rite. But with the emergence of mixed martial arts as the fastest-growing sport in the world, many sports fans will also probably be gathering around the table talking about the UFC, Bellator and other MMA programming.
Fighters such as Georges St-Pierre, Chris Weidman, Jon Jones, Ronda Rousey and Cain Velasquez have made 2013 a memorable year in the UFC. At a time when big-time boxing matches only happen twice a year, the rise of the UFC is certainly something to be thankful for if you are a combat sports fan. On Thanksgiving Day, here’s a reminder of why we should be thankful for the UFC and other MMA programming.
Competition is great. It makes everyone better. One of the downsides of the current MMA scene is that MMA has such a dominant role in the marketplace. Fighters have fewer options to fight and therefore have fewer opportunities to leverage themselves against different companies. Fighters who risk leaving the UFC are likely to get insulted by UFC President Dana White. Just look at what happened with Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. Bellator, however, gives fighters a viable alternative. It’s not the UFC and may never be. Bellator is, however, a professional organization that pays well and puts on high-quality shows. Bellator assumed the No. 2 position in the market after Strikeforce sold out to Zuffa and the UFC. Bellator is good for MMA. Competition makes everyone better and it’s good to know that if something ever happens to the UFC, that there are other promotions ready to carry the sport.
4. Ronda Rousey
Yes, there were female fighters before her, but there were also people singing black music before Elvis Presley. Like Elvis, Rousey took something and made it her own, and revolutionized the industry. Rousey arrived this with her debut in the UFC, tapping out Liz Carmouche in the first round in February. She fought in the main event in her UFC debut and sparked more than 450,000 PPV buys. Rousey is hungry, talented and angry. She’s everything you want in an MMA fighter. Thank goodness for someone like her to come around and shake everything up. She’s more popular than some of the guy fighters and if it wasn’t for here women wold not be fighting in the UFC. Even if she never wins another fight, Rousey has opened doors and has helped cement women’s MMA as equal to the sport of her brothers.
3. Bruce Buffer
The WWE had Mean Gene Okerlund. The UFC has Buffer. Like Okerlund, you can’t help but smile and look when Buffer is on the screen. He’s dramatic and over the top, but when he gets behind the microphone, he makes it feel important and real. Never before him has there been an announcer with his charisma, energy and zest for telling the fighters’ story. If Bellator ever wanted to seriously hurt the UFC, they should throw a lot of money at Buffer and lure him over because Buffer is part of the formula that makes the UFC and MMA so special. “It’s TIME!” is one of those catchphrases people will always remember abotu the UFC.
2. George St-Pierre
He’s getting old. He can’t finish fights anymore. He’s overly cautious and a shell of his former self. But he’s still the best fighter in the world. That’s how good he is. St-Pierre has slowed down, but his performances over Nick Diaz, Carlos Condit and Johny Hendricks were amazing feats of courage. The Diaz fight was the easiest, but he dominated him like no other fighter ever has. GSP rallied from a head kick from Condit to win the fight. That head-kick would have knocked out most other guys. And against Hendricks, he somehow rallied to defend his title, in a fight that everyone seemed to count him out in half-way through. He’s so skilled that even when he’s not at his best, he’s still good enough to win. Even if you think Hendricks won the GSP fight, there’s no doubting that GSP fought hard and stood up to the guy who many people thought would knock him out. GSP is the perfect MMA fighter. He works hard, doesn’t showboat like Anderson Silva, and gives it his all every time he steps inside the cage. MMA fans are lucky to see him. He won’t be around forever so we all should be thankful that we get to see him now.
1. Dana White
Love him. Hate him. Curse him. Praise him. Without him, the UFC would probably be fringe programming, or worse, out of business. White is at times brash, rude and overly judgmental. He’s also a smart, shrewd visionary who has turned the UFC into what is probably a billion-dollar business. The UFC needed just the right guy to be the figurehead of the company. White has turned out to be the right guy at the right time. Even though his marketing strategy is to focus on the UFC brand over individual fighters, without White there probably wouldn’t be much of a UFC or many fighters on the rosters. White is one of those take-the-good-with-the-bad kind of figures. We should all be thankful that White is around. Some fans and fighters may not like him, but who knows what the UFC or MMA would be without him.