In 2019, everyone knows what the UFC is, even if they are not fans of the sport. It is a violent contest with far fewer rules than boxing. A competitor in the ultimate fighting championship may kick, head butt, and elbow his opponent. Only hair pulling, groin kicking, and eye gouging are against the dangerous sport’s few rules. Fighters compete without boxing gloves, and only the lack of frequent deaths allows the UFC to remain legal anywhere. Today, the champions of the ultimate fighting championship are at least as well known as the best professional boxers.
However, the UFC is no longer the only well known no rules fighting organization, and the days in which it is the most famous may soon be over. Since 2011, a new, widely televised fighting sport known as ONE championship has emerged in Singapore and is popular enough to compete with the UFC for viewers. Like the ultimate fighting championship, the ONE championship allows different fighting styles to compete with each other. It is a mixed martial arts tournament in which boxing, muay Thai, and grappling are allowed to compete with other fighting styles.
While the ultimate fighting championship remains significantly more popular in the west, it faces a challenging competitor in Asia. Chatri Sityodtong, the founder of the ONE championship, wants to use his fighting league to promote traditional Asian values of honor and self-improvement. Three of the five countries most interested in mixed martial arts are in Asia, so the UFC could face a significant loss of market share if it were to lose most of the Asian market.
While the UFC has recently hosted a significant fight in China, the ONE championship does seem to be beating the UFC in Asia. Certainly, the ONE championship has more Asian viewers. One championship spokesman Sityodtong points out that martial arts have existed since the beginning of recorded history in Asia and that all Asian nations have their martial arts style. The ONE championship intends to be inspirational – an ordinary person may improve their own lives out of admiration for a martial arts champion.
Are the fortunes of the UFC declining? The total fortunes of the UFC, which does not publicize its complete financial information, seem in fact to be falling in recent years, even if the organization will continue to exist for the foreseeable future. While Dana White, the UFC president, claims that 2017 was the UFC’s most financially successful year on record, the declining viewership tells a different story. Many of the UFC’s fans are older men – the organization is having difficulty appealing to the 18-34-year-old men that should theoretically be its biggest fans. Most of the UFC’s profits come from pay-per-view, which may be in decline as well. The total number of television viewers that the UFC has is also declining. Perhaps, the UFC has too many events and too many fighters. With fewer events, it would be easier for fans to be excited to see them.
If the UFC is in decline, is the ONE championship rapidly increasing its market share? While the popularity of the ONE championship does seem to be improving, it may be a money-losing organization. In 2015, 2016, and 2017, the ONE championship lost money as a business. Each year, the company reported a loss in the tens of millions. In spite of how much money the ONE championship brings in, the marketing costs are enormous. The ONE championship is at least not a stable and reliably profitable business.
While both the UFC and the ONE championship are here to stay, both organizations may have passed their peak profitability. Perhaps there is only a limited if a sizable amount of interest in combat sports, and it is no longer possible for extensive marketing campaigns to increase the size of either the western or the Asian audience. Not, however, that the UFC could disappear in the west or the ONE championship could vanish in the east shortly. Both tournaments will continue to exist for as long as interest in mixed martial arts remains.