I wanted to write this for a while and it was bolstered after reading Afro Samurai's ppst on Chael Sonnen and some of the reactions I've seen here and other places in regards to his cultural insensitivity. My resolve was strengthened after the recent Nazi imagery in clothing debacle posted by and another piece written by Jonathan Snowden. I dunno, I think those things are tangibly-related to this. This isn't a formal written article, moreso a collection of thoughts based on things I've read/observed for a while.
There's a theory thats been bandied about in the past basically stating that the UFC's popularity/rise in popularity is related to the idea that Whites became big fans of MMA as it was a combat sport in which White athletes were dominant. In the fight sport of boxing, Blacks and more recently Latinos have dominated the divisions from top to bottom. There hasn't really been an American White boxer of substance in some time. The theory states that not only did White fighters excel, but when faced against Black fighters (who normally were seen as dominant in combat sports), they routinely defeated the Black fighters. It was, in essence, a sport fit for White superiority.
Now, this is not to say that all MMA fans are inherently racist. Not at all. In fact, at its core, there's nothing racist with wanting to see people like you succeed. I root for Black fighters. Now that isn't necessarily just because they are Black, but also because there's so few of them and I know successful Black fighters will get more diverse eyes on the sport as well as serve as inspiration for young kids to get in the sport. So I'm not saying this theory is painting MMA fans as racist. I think there is an undercurrent of "White supremacy" (read: not White Supremacy) in the popularity of MMA in America. To say that if instead of Chuck Liddell KOing people, you had Jamal Liddell doing it, the UFC wouldn't be where it is today.
Now, I believe there is a minority of fans of MMA that are very prejudicial (if not full out racist) in their support of it. How big a percentage that is, I don't know. I don't think it is a minuscule number. Sub0 said it best in a comment, the Whiter the audience, the more likely you will encounter racism. And the UFC's audience is very Whiter. I've been to bars to watch a couple fights and heard a few suspect comments. I've been to a few events (one of which I will talk about later) and heard many more.
If you've ever been to a UFC live event, you'll note that there's more diversity at a Coldplay (are they still "in"?) concert with very noted exceptions. The atmosphere at the Phillips Arena when Rashad KO'd Chuck was...well there was tension in the air. The crowd, in a city like Atlanta with a high Black population,.was surprisingly undiverse. By the time Rashad Evans was introduced, he was horribly booed (not necessarily a odd occurrence seeing as he was going up against fan favorite Chuck). However, when Rashad struck that mighty blow, there was no cheering or excitement, it was a sort of anger. When he was announced as the winner, there was a round of boos. It's hard to describe, but it wasn't just regular "boo, I dislike you", it had a feel of a racial element.
If you look at the UFC's top draws, they are all White (with the exception of BJ Penn who as an Asian in the vein of combat sports is race neutral) while many of the top fighters are not. The best fighter is a Black Brazilian who has been unable to draw interest from paying fans unless he was put on cards with other draws. Could it be that fans didn't want to see him beat up on White fighters? Is it his race? Is it that he doesn't speak English? Who knows. His case is far to complex to be used as evidence.
LHWs Rashad and Rampage are examples people would give as top draws, but IMO, their UFC 114 fight was an aberration. That was probably one of the better promoted events the UFC has ever had. it was a year in the making, it had the highest rated TUF season ever building to it and it was a couple weeks before Rampage's big movie was to come out. The talking between the two put MMA fans into a tizzy, anticipating this fight and so they tuned in. I don't believe the UFC will be able to capture that lightning in a bottle again with the fading Rampage. And Rashad has shown that in the absence of a big opponent, he cannot draw. Again, not saying that is because of race or anything, I'm just talking now.
But that Rashad/Rampage buildup brought up a very interesting point that I've been saying for a couple years in regards to the differences between Rashad and Rampage and why the majority of MMA fans tend to embrace and love Rampage while rejecting and hating Rashad. I know there's some posters that feel me on that, but I'm not going to go into that here. But it all ties into somehow.
So you have these clothing companies, and they have all this apparel designed with the "idea of looking tough" with the snakes and the lightning and what not. The subliminal Nazi imagery and iconography. It's all seemingly there to prey on the insecurities (subconscious and others) of MMA fans and give an appearance of "Tough Guy" (which is why to most normal fans/people, they all end up looking like douches). While MMA apparel companies will claim that such usage of imagery is totally accidental, some say that these companies recognize the undercurrent in MMA fandom and are catering to them. While th4re may be temporary blowback for a company to put out a shirt with taboo imagery (and then later repeal it), those that sympathize or feel a certain way about things might be inclined to support that company.
And to tie this into AfroSamurai's post the other day, you have a guy like Chael Sonnen who makes borderline culturally insensitive and xenophobic remarks and instead of being chastised, he has a cult following and is lauded by the MMA media. A former politician, his act might not fly in the real world, but in the realm of pro wrestling MMA, it seems to be working thus far. Those that criticize his comments "don't get it" and are "just marks falling for it" when in fact people have legitimate gripes. Chael's fanbase is decidedly YSWSCM (Young Straight White Single Christian Men), the same people that permeate the comments section on Youtube or random newspaper articles where you see racially and culturally insensitive remarks. To many of them, Chael is the guy who gets away with it. He gets to talk the shit they can only do on the internet for fear of (rightful) reprisal in the real world. These are the same YSWSCM that defend the use of slurs by various parties and can't understand (or willingly ignore) why people would/could get offended by them.
And that leads us to where we are today. Many feel that the popularity of MMA (which doesn't have a large base to fall back on) will began to wane as minority fighters (and I don't mean Brazilians unless you're talking Anderson Silva Black Brazilian) began to take the top spots. Many of the fans who became big MMA followers will lose interest as it becomes just like boxing, just like the NBA and majority of the NFL and MLB and loses it's "specialness". Again, I don't know if I agree or disagree with that.
I don't know, thoughts? I know it's a few things jumbled up in there. Maybe I'm off-base, but I've definitely heard it in more than a few circles from Whites, Blacks and others in regards to the MMA being popularized because of the success of White fighters. I think Bob Arum alluded to something like that, but was just more crass. Sorry this isn't that organized. Maybe I'll do something formal.