What: Between UFC traveling to Buenos Aires and Chile, key broadcast deals by Combate Américas, and impressive victories by Hispanic fighters, the sport of MMA continues to grow in the Hispanic market.
Why it matters: MMA companies are finding different ways to tap into the market as MMA gains popularity.
It has been a November to remember for Hispanics in mixed martial arts (MMA).
Between Mexico’s Yair Rodriguez’s (@panteraufc) devastating last-second elbow knockout of the “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung (@KoreanZombieMMA) at Ultimate Fighting Championships’s (@ufc) 25th Anniversary show, Santiago Ponzinibbio’s (@SPonzinibbioMMA) victory over Neil Magny (@NeilMagny) in his hometown of Bueno Aires in UFC’s first show in Argentina, and the return of Tito Ortiz (@titoortiz) under Oscar de la Hoya’s (@OscarDeLaHoya) Golden Boy Promotion (@GoldenBoyBoxing) banner, Hispanics are making an impact on the sport of MMA, in 2018.
Since Cain Velasquez (@cainmma) won the UFC Heavyweight championship in 2010, MMA’s popularity has continued to increase in the Hispanic market. A 2017 Washington Post-UMass Lowell poll shows that 31 percent of Hispanics polled identified as MMA fans. Those latest numbers show a huge increase in the sport’s popularity, compared to the results of a 2011 Pew Hispanic Center (@PewHispanic) study, where MMA polled at 6.8 percent.
One of the companies capitalizing on the rising popularity of MMA among Hispanic fans is Combate Américas (@combateamericas). Founded by UFC co-founder Campbell McLaren (@campbellcombate), Combate Américas has evolved from a mun2 (@NBCUniverso) reality show — that featured “King of Reggaetón” Latin Grammy award-winner Daddy Yankee (@daddy_yankee) as the show’s first commissioner, Venezuelan Latin Grammy award-winning pop duo Chino y Nacho (@ChinoyNacho ) as hosts and SiriusXM host El Piolin (@ElshowdePiolin) as color commentator; and gave 10 fighters in two weight classes a chance to win Combate Américas contracts — to a thriving MMA organization that is launching the careers of fighters coming out the U.S., Mexico, and South America.
“The Hispanic community has been vastly underserved in MMA, even though there are around 600 million Spanish speakers worldwide,” said McClaren to Portada-Online (@portada_online), back in March. “That is why we exist, and we want this community to feel impacted and empowered by Combate Américas. To say we are a ‘niche’ when we are serving an audience of this size, one that is about a third larger than the number of English speakers worldwide, wouldn’t be accurate. What began as a mission to serve the U.S. Hispanic audience is now a platform serving Spanish speakers worldwide.”
McClaren has built on the company’s success, increasing Combate Américas’ exposure this year by signing a 13-fight-per-year streaming agreement with DAZN (@DAZN_USA) for the U.S. English-language broadcast rights, as well as having dealt the U.S. Spanish-language broadcast rights to Univision Deportes (@UnivisionSports). Univision will air a total of 16 cards on their linear platform, with preliminary bouts streaming on UnivisionDeportes.com.
“A year ago when we began approaching television networks to air our events, we were getting in the door but not taken seriously. Some of them didn’t understand how strong our product was going to be, especially around millennials,” said McLaren. “To be able to secure this new partnership with Univision Deportes, a sports media brand that is home to the No. 1 Spanish-language sports network and has the best lineup of sports and entertainment programming, shows the immense growth that we’ve experienced within the past couple of years.”
That’s very big that they have a deal with Univision because they are reaching a huge demographic that is not exposed to MMA, that are not necessarily watching Fox Sports or ESPN
Known more for their soccer programming, Univision Deportes’ venture with Combate Américas is their first foray into the MMA world. Univision’s immense presence in the Hispanic market has been key in helping Combate Américas expand their brand, as the fledgling MMA company continues to come into its own.
Combate Américas drew a combined 764,000 viewers on Univision and Univision Deportes for their April 13 Combate 20: Estrellas I card, compared to 403,000 viewers Bellator 197 (@BellatorMMA) drew between the Paramount Network (@paramountnet) and CMT (@CMT) network, according to Dave Doyle (@davedoylemma), MMA columnist for Yahoo Sports (@YahooSports).
“As far as exposure, they are on national TV, they are on Univision. That’s huge, Univision is one of the biggest channels out there,” said MMAFighting.com‘s Danny Segura (@dannyseguratv). “That’s very big that they have a deal with Univision because they are reaching a huge demographic that is not exposed to MMA, that are not necessarily watching Fox Sports (@FOXSports) or ESPN (@espn).”
As producer of The MMAHour, Segura has gotten an Octagon-side view of the evolution of the sport in the Hispanic market. Born in Bogota, Colombia, and raised in Florida, Segura became a fan of the sport after watching the first season of The Ultimate Fighter.
“I was first exposed to [MMA] when I first moved to the U.S. with my family. I was in middle school and that was when the first season of The Ultimate Fighter came on,” said Segura. “We didn’t have a lot of money growing up, we didn’t really have any cable or anything like that. But in the city that we lived in, in Florida, within the water bill came a small cable package, and within that package, there were a few channels and one of them was Spike, so I would just watch The Ultimate Fighter all the time.”
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Contemplating between a career in engineering or journalism, Segura started his own website while attending Florida International University (@FIU), paying his dues covering local MMA shows and interviewing champions such as Eddie Alvarez (@Ealvarezfight). Segura’s work caught the attention of MMAFighting.com’s Luke Thomas (@lthomasnews) and earned a part-time job working for the website while he finished school.
“I was thinking about doing engineering and I was taking some math classes, while I was doing my media stuff on the side, on my free time,” said Segura. “I had to make a decision whether I wanted to continue with engineering or do media. I had already done a few things, I don’t want to call them big but I felt like they were significant work, and I was really enjoying it and I was finding purpose in it.”
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Segura left for New York City after he graduated, covering different areas of the sport for MMAFighting, working his way up from part-time to full-time, eventually becoming producer for the MMAHour and a panelist of The MMA Beat.
Having seen different angles of the sport over the years, both as a fight fan and as an MMA journalist, Segura has an understanding of the Hispanic market. Segura believes that while the sport has made great strides in tapping into the market, failure to find a crossover international star that draws casual fans is a missing ingredient that is stunting growth.
The development of talents such as Rodriguez and Ponzinibbio can only help MMA in the South American market. The 26-year-old Rodriguez, fighting out of Chihuahua, Mexico, was The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America winner and has a unique, entertaining fighting style helped him defeat two-time UFC champion B.J. Penn (@bjpenndotcom) as well as aided him in putting on a “Fight of the Year” performance against “The Korean Zombie,” this month.
Ponzinibbio, the 32-year old from La Plata, Argentina who is currently on a seven-fight winning streak, headlined the UFC’s first ever show in Buenos Aires and climbed to number seven in the UFC welterweight rankings after defeating Magny in front of 10,245 fans who came to support their countryman at Parque Roca Arena.
Both fighters hope to reach the success and heights of popularity as Velasquez, the Mexican-American wrestling standout from Arizona State University (@ASUWrestling) who captured the UFC Heavyweight title on two occasions, after beat Brock Lesnar (@BrockLesnar) in 2010 and Junior dos Santos (@junior_cigano) in 2012. Velazquez became a marketable Hispanic star for the UFC, headlining UFC 188 in Mexico City, and drawing 21,036 fans to the Mexico City Arena.
But different factors, including recurring injuries, prevented Velazquez from capturing the hearts, minds and dollars of Hispanic fight fans, in the same manner that Irish MMA fans travel to Conor McGregor when he enters the Octagon, as Segura points out.
“We’re missing that one guy that can combine everything, both talent-wise, and as well as know how to promote his or herself, and has what they call in the fight game as the ‘it’ factor,” said Segura. “This sports is driven by names, by fighters. So if you got the next big thing coming out of Brazil, like Paolo Acosta who is just destroying everyone in his path, of course you are going to cater to that market, of course you are going to use him as a vehicle to get those Brazilian fans, and I don’t think we have had that yet in the Hispanic market.”