UFC Works to Change MMA's Image in Brazil

Picture_18_mediumOur own Nate wrote this just a couple of weeks ago explaining why MMA never caught on as a socially viable sport, but how that could change. To wit:

One of the ironies of MMA history is the fact that while vale tudo was invented in Brazil as a more extreme extension of the kinds of challenge matches that were popular in North America around the turn of the twentieth century, it remained strictly an underground event, never attaining mainstream status. Periodic TV coverage of big fights in the 1950s, 1970s and early 1990s never resulted in anything resembling a sustained popularity for the sport, largely because the fighters didn't have a professional, sporting attitude and treated other fighters and camps as enemies rather than rivals.

Brazil is beginning to emerge as a regional economic leader, finally showing signs of realizing its immense economic potential. The timing couldn't be better for MMA promoters to get on good terms with the local governments in Brazil.

I also told you about the UFC's signing of legitimate television partners in Brazil. Now, Josh Gross takes a granular look at what the UFC's specific, local efforts as well as larger initiatives of promotion and marketing are changing:

After protracted battles with media and local governments, Brazilian MMA, which like the American version has been buoyed by a rabid online audience, is benefiting from an improved relationship with authorities. In Rio de Janeiro last month, the sport earned a seal of approval as an outlet for youth hailing from the city's notorious drug-infested slums.

Forging new relationships that cast MMA in a positive light demands shedding the media-driven perception that fighters are thugs. And it likely starts with Brazil's television industry.

"We are passing through a turning point now," said veteran Brazilian MMA pundit Marcelo Alonso. "Finally, some big television channels are starting to show the UFC. But we need at least one year, or more, to make MMA popular in Brazil like it is in the U.S."

Rua (18-3) believes that process is well under way.

"The UFC is investing some money now in p.r. down in Brazil to make the sport grow there, which is very good," he said. "I had the pleasure of meeting people from the biggest newspapers, magazines and Web sites from Brazil in the United States covering the UFC. So it goes to show that they are really investing time in that. I think that a fight between Lyoto and me only helps that, and makes it easier for the press to cover it and, hopefully, it will draw more attention in the future."

If for no other reason, the popularity of MMA and it's attraction to potential athletes as a viable opportunity for self-sufficiency or personal sport in Brazil will reap dividends in innumerable ways. And not just Brazil. True, the country does stand with few peers in terms of churning out the combat sports-inclined year after year. But this process repeated in Europe, China, Australia and wherever else MMA is on the early end of the developmental curve is helpful as well. Popularity brings attention and money, and money brings better best practices. The more the UFC can alter perceptions and develop their brand with local stars leading the charge, the MMA scenes in countries still new or skeptical of MMA will evolve and their best talent - and "best" itself implies meritorious, flushed out hierarchy - will likely find the best shows.

Win-win for everyone.

-- image via Sherdog.com

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