publicidad
Moreno vs Pettis in Mexico City.

Mixed martial arts has its sights set on Latin America

Mixed martial arts has its sights set on Latin America

It remains to be seen whether Mexico will embrace mixed martial arts en masse. Mexicans and Mexican-Americans remain a dedicated fan base of boxing.

Moreno vs Pettis in Mexico City.
Moreno vs Pettis in Mexico City.

MEXICO CITY – The faces of two fighters crisscrossed this city of 9 million people for weeks, plastered on the sides of public buses. They weren’t megastars like Floyd Mayweather Jr. or Conor McGregor, who made news with their unusual boxing match earlier this summer.

But in the small but growing universe of mixed martial arts fans in Mexico, these fighters – Mexico’s Brandon Moreno and Mexican-American Sergio Pettis – are a big deal. The Ultimate Fighting Championship wants to make them household names.

After years of explosive growth in the United States and Europe, the mixed martial arts’ promoter has its sights set on Latin America.

“It’s time to expand the brand,” Joe Carr, UFC’s former senior vice president and head of international and content, said after a recent Moreno-Pettis fight. Latin America, he said, is its most “strategically important” market.

In May, UFC signed a contract with Fox to air fights for free throughout most of Latin America, a deal the company projects will bring the sport to some 44 million households. It plans to host fights in Chile or Argentina – or both – for the first time within the year. And it is aggressively promoting a budding cache of up-and-coming Latino fighters.

“In any market around the world where we have really grown, we haven’t done it without a local star,” Carr said.

An MMA fan in Mexico City.
An MMA fan in Mexico City.

When the UFC first debuted in Mexico in 2014, the closest thing the sport had to a Mexican star was Californian Cain Velasquez, a two-time champion in the heavyweight division – reserved for fighters 206 pounds and up. The son of Mexican immigrants, Velasquez, 35, often promotes himself as a Mexican first and American second, and enters his bouts with the Mexican flag wrapped around his shoulders. Many Mexicans say they began following the sport because of him.

Just three years later, Mexico has several well-known fighters. The most prominent of them is 24-year-old Yair Rodriguez, who is ranked seventh in the featherweight division and has movie-star good looks. There’s also Moreno, ranked seventh in the flyweight division – the lightest division – and Alexa Grasso, a 24-year-old unranked fighter in the strawweight division who, in addition to Moreno, was a main draw at the Aug. 5 event in Mexico City.

publicidad

In all, eight of the 12 bouts that night featured a Mexico-born fighter. They all drew booming chants of “Mexico!” from the 10,000-person crowd.

Adahara Rosales came from Chino, California for the night. “I love the fights in Mexico. They’re nothing like the ones in the United States,” she said. “Here, we are the people – we are equals.” Rosales added that the audience is a lot livelier in Mexico – before yelling out “We want to see blood!”

“The reality is we have become fanatics,” said Jose de la Cruz, who came with his 16-year-old daughter, Diana, who is training in mixed martial arts. “When we look at a Mexican that is fighting – or of Mexican origin – we start following them.”

In the end, it wasn’t a good night for the Mexican fighters, as just three won their bouts and one of those victories – Grasso over Randa Markos, in one of the most entertaining fights of the night – came via a controversial split decision. Moreno, the crowd favorite, also lost the title fight.

Markos vs Grasso.
Markos vs Grasso.

But the losses didn’t appear to damper the audience’s enthusiasm.

“I get excited when a fighter gets knocked out and then comes back even stronger – it’s thrilling,” said Isal Garcia, 19.

As the UFC attempts to grow the sport worldwide, UFC executives see countries like Chile and Argentina as big potential markets. Yet Mexico and Brazil are “the linchpins” to the company’s Latin America strategy, Carr said.

Brazil is already a huge market for UFC, in part because many of the fighters are experts in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, a popular self-defense martial art in Brazil that emphasizes the use of chokeholds and leg locks to use an opponent’s size and strength to one’s advantage.

Mexico's boxing fans

But it remains to be seen whether Mexico will embrace mixed martial arts en masse. Mexicans and Mexican-Americans remain a dedicated fan base of boxing, even though the sport has waned in popularity over the last 20 years – coinciding with the rise of mixed-martial arts.

The country’s boxing stars extend from Julio César Chávez González – considered one of the greatest boxers of all time – to Saul “Canelo” Alvarez, a three-time world champion who is Mexico’s biggest star today.

Boxing also has a crucial structural advantage over mixed martial arts in Mexico: Bouts are broadcast live on open television every weekend. Because UFC requires a paid subscription to watch, its fans are largely those with money.

UFC hopes to change that with the Fox deal. But while its fights have already begun broadcasting throughout South America, the deal won’t take effect in Mexico until 2019 because of an existing agreement with Televisa, the country’s powerful television broadcaster.

Carr predicted that would be a game-changer. “I really think that having it every weekend on basic cable will change the trajectory of the sport here,” he said.

For now, the sport seems to be gaining recognition. Packed bars throughout Mexico City aired the hyped boxing match between McGregor and Mayweather on Aug. 26.

Many Mexicans watching the game said they were rooting for McGregor, the Irish UFC star who was fighting in his first-ever boxing match. But despite their affinity for the mixed martial arts’ fighter, they dismissed the notion that UFC would surpass boxing in popularity.

“Never!” proclaimed Joel Rodriguez. “Boxing has more sponsors. It has more fighters. And you can watch boxing for free on television.”

Yet Moreno, the baby-faced UFC star who lost the title fight on Aug. 5, said he foresees a day when Mexican fighters will dominate both sports – and mixed martial arts will rival boxing.

publicidad

A Tijuana native who still lives and trains there, Moreno stepped into a mixed martial arts gym when he was 12 purely by happenstance. Before that moment, he had never heard of UFC or mixed martial arts.

“Para nada,” he said. “The only thing that I wanted was to practice a sport and take advantage of my free time. But I started doing it and I fell in love.”

Up until a year ago, almost nobody recognized him in the street, he said. Now, every time he leaves his house he is stopped at least three times by people wanting to take a picture with him. After his loss to Pettis, he went to get his oil changed, and fans came up to him encouraging him to bounce back.

“I think in four to five years UFC is going to have more shows, more fighters in the top 10,” he said. “It’s only a question of time.”

publicidad
publicidad
The Colombian soldier Mauricio Calvo shares his experience as part of a burgeoning industry of men who travel the world to fight in other people's wars.
They grew up in Chicago and their husbands, the Flores twins (aka ‘Los Mellizos’), worked for the Sinaloa cartel. The twins later became DEA informants in Mexico who helped bring down El Chapo Guzman. They have written a book, Cartel Wives, telling their story as a lesson to others not to fall for the narco life, and they regret what they put their families through. "Our fathers put on their suit of armor and their badge, and they are going out there on the streets of Chicago,” Mia confesses. “It’s the very same streets that our husbands were flooding with drugs.”
Nelson Denis, author of 'War Against All Puerto Ricans,' details how the commonwealth's 119-year-long association with the U.S. has produced total economic and governing dependence. With over $70 billion in crushing debt, Puerto Rico's governor turned to the courts on Wednesday to put certain debts before a federal bankruptcy court.
We traveled to Ciudad Juárez to see if hundreds of thousands of jobs in the Mexican maquiladora industry would return to the United States if Trump were to modify or abandon the NAFTA free trade agreement, as his government is considering. A border tax would have serious consequences in Mexican cities.
A wave of demonstrations in Venezuela has left several dead and hundreds more detained in the last two weeks. Univision reporter Tamoa Calzadilla explains how a democratic crisis, inflation and shortages of food and medicine have sent Venezuelans into the streets.
As the legend goes, a UFO landed in Capilla del Monte in 1986, leaving a mark on the side of the Pajarillo mountains. Since then, this Argentinian village has lived off UFO tourism. It's currently hosting its annual Alien Festival.
The announcement to scrap the benefits came as a bucket of cold water for the Cuban migrants who just arrived in the United States. As this group waits for their papers, the uncertainty grows on whether they will ever be reunited with the relatives they left on the island.
It is estimated that the Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, and its rival Barrio 18 gang together have about 40,000 members in the United States. And at least another 100,000 in El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico and Italy. How did the gangs come to be among the world's best known criminal organizations?
A group of Argentines diagnosed with mental illness set up a radio station from where they broadcast their experiences
How Fidel Castro's plan to save Cuban baseball unraveled. The once mighty amateur baseball champions have lost much of their talent in recent years to U.S. Major League Baseball. Now the Cuban government is in discussions with MLB to stop the desertions. But will a Trump presidency make that more difficult?
A half-century of armed conflict has left behind 8 million victims in Colombia. It has also affected the country's unique natural resources. We explore the war’s impact on Colombia’s environment.
At the end of 1980 ‘Team USA’ defeated ‘Tri’ for the first time in almost fifty years. Footage from this match was presumably hidden by the Mexican Federation, but after more than three decades these images are revealed here.
Forty three students in Mexico were abducted two years ago, and to this day, none have ever been found. When his son Jorge disappeared, New York City plumber Antonio Tizapa began to run marathons, not to win, but to send a message at the end of each race: he won’t stop until he finds his son or the truth about what really happened on that shameful day. On Sunday, Antonio and 20 friends will be running the New York City Marathon.
The evidence against El Chapo: undercover recordings, intercepted communications, protected witnesses’ declarations, drug seizures, and a confession. As U.S. prosecutors prepare their case against the world's most feared drug trafficker, this is what the government's case is built around.
Family, friends and fans turned out on Wednesday to pay their last respects to Miami Marlins pitching ace, José Fernández who died in a boating accident early Sunday.
An experienced captain and a Univision crew successfully navigated the same route as the Miami Marlins star pitcher who was killed in a boating accident Sunday.
Durante horas, hispano se parapetó en su casa de Florida y acabó quitándose la vida de un disparo
En el interior de la casa había cuatro personas, entre ellas su hija menor de edad. Las autoridades creen que una disputa familiar fue la causa del incidente.
Lili Estefan se viste como Thalía para defender el look de la cantante en el cumpleaños de su abuela
Nuestra flaca quiso ponerse un vestido parecido al de Thalía y Raúl de Molina pensó que se había vestido como ‘la chica dorada’, Paulina Rubio.
Daniela di Giacomo nos trajo los mejor y peor vestidos de los premios SAG 2018
La premiación de los ‘Screen Actors Guild Awards’ o SAG por sus siglas en ingles se llevó a cabo este domingo 21 de enero en la ciudad de Los Ángeles y la alfombra roja estuvo llena de toda clase de tendencias en cuanto a moda se refiere. Mira quién deslumbró y quién no.
La Gozadera: “Llevo 20 años soportando a Lili y 17 años a Mia” Raúl de Molina no puede más y rompe el silencio
No te puedes perder las bromas que le hace Lili Stefan a Raúl de Molina cuando estamos en comerciales, solo son comparables con los disgustos que le ocasiona su hija Mia y Julián Gil armó un revolú en el estudio.
publicidad
Hospital de Michigan pide la liberación de médico inmigrante polaco detenido por ICE tras casi 40 años viviendo en EEUU
La detención del médico Lukasz R. Niec fue criticada por el sistema de hospitales donde trabaja, considerando "todas las contribuciones que ha hecho cuidando ejemplarmente a sus pacientes".
Nuestros Maestros
Cuando los estudiantes tienen un profesor que se parece a ellos, su ausentismo baja, se concentran más, sus calificaciones mejoran y sus tasas de graduación suben. Pero aunque un cuarto de los estudiantes del país son hispanos, solo 7% de los maestros lo son. Estos maestros hacen una gran diferencia.
Provocaba crisis cardiacas a sus pacientes por el "placer de revivirlos": el método del enfermero alemán acusado de 97 asesinatos
Niels Hoegel enfrenta ya una condena a cadena perpetua por el asesinato de 6 de sus pacientes, pero como lo intuían los investigadores, este enfermero pudo provocarle la muerte a casi un centenar.
Se atrincheró en su casa por más de 5 horas y luego se pegó un tiro
Alfred Álvarez se atrincheró armado con dos mujeres y dos niños en una casa al suroeste del condado de Miami-Dade. La policía intentó negociar con él pero cuando entraron a la vivienda, encontraron al sospechoso muerto. Las mujeres y los niños resultaron ilesos.
Juventus vence por la mínima al Génova y se mantiene a la caza del Nápoles
El campeón de Italia logró un sufrido triunfo sobre los azulgranas gracias al gol de Douglas Costa.
"Demostraré a todos que estoy más vivo que nunca", dijo Carlos Vela tras su primer entrenamiento con LAFC
El delantero mexicano trabajó por primera vez con el número 10 de Los Angeles FC y el entrenador espera que su liderazgo sea fundamental en la primera temporada del equipo.
Por: John Rojas
Ricardo Ferreti estima que Osorio ya tiene el 90 % de la convocatoria para Rusia 2018
El técnico brasileño considera que al colombiano sólo le falta afinar unos cuantos lugares en la lista de jugadores para el Mundial de Rusia.
‘Tuca’ Ferretti defendió a Avilés Hurtado y envió una indirecta a la afición de Monterrey
El estratega de Tigres aseguró que la gente se olvida pronto, en defensa del futbolista colombiano que volvió a fallar un cobro penal, y destacó que: “Solo fallamos los que intentamos”.