OAKLAND CA - AUGUST 07: Chael Sonnen walks to his corner in between rounds of his fights against Anderson Silva during the UFC Middleweight Championship bout at Oracle Arena on August 7 2010 in Oakland California. (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
For years it's been the dream of MMA fans and promoters alike. The mainstream - a virtual paradise where respect and attention from leading media outlets turns into dollar bills for promoters and fantastic coverage for fans. Where the sport we all love grows large enough to compete with football, baseball, and even soccer.
MMA is making tremendous progress towards becoming an accepted part of sports culture. Articles in mainstream outlets, once written every few years, appear weekly. The sport is also producing a growing market of third party ventures looking to make a buck. And it's not just gaudy t-shirts anymore. MMA product, according to Jake Rossen at ESPN, is as likely to be found in Toys R Us as it is at Hot Topic:
MMA paraphernalia has become very big business. Round 5, a company specializing in figurines, was reputed to have broken seven-figure sales in 2009 alone. Jakks Pacific, which produces an endless series of poseable figures that can break each other's limbs, topped $3 million in profits for the second quarter of 2010, aided in part by its association with the UFC.
But, as with all areas of life, the media that reports the rise will be thrilled to report on the fall. MMA has been so desperate for mainstream attention that the people running the industry have forgotten about the consequences. ESPN isn't going to be afraid to take on the controversial topics the UFC has masterfully been able to bully the MMA media into avoiding (think it is a coincidence that the reporting for the Sonnen story is all being done by Josh Gross and the folks at Sherdog)? The UFC got when ESPN talking head Jim Rome met the Sonnen story head-on:
Then comes word that he reportedly was popped for roids. Sherdog.com reported that he flunked a post-fight urinalysis after that loss to Silva in the main event of UFC 117. So we have to wait and see what’s true and what’s not. If in fact that’s true, this guy’s got major problems. That’s a bad deal for him. Bad for him, bad for the sport, but mostly bad for him. If he did test positive, then he’s probably looking at a lengthy suspension. A suspension that could run 9 months to a year and that’s at the worst possible time. Never good to be suspended for a year, but this guy couldn’t be any more prominent, couldn’t be any hotter, couldn’t be any more prevalent, this is his time to strike, to get paid, to continue to make a name for himself, to get a belt. And he could get shut down for 9 months to a year. That would mean no rematch with Silva and the guy’s going to be fined and lose money that he would have made during his suspension. Not to mention, he’s going to lose that rematch with Silva if it’s true.
Steve Cofield at Yahoo has seen the media beast at work. As an ESPN radio personality he understands the power of that particular media behemoth - and he obviously has some concerns about seeing MMA enter the mainstream:
Monday's Jim Rome show was another example of "be careful what you wish for MMA" when it comes to media coverage. Now that more media big boys are on board, they'll often latch onto the negative stories before the positive ones. It was a bit shocking to hear the national radio host talking MMA on a Monday that didn't follow a fight card weekend but the Chael Sonnen saga was simply too good for Rome to pass up.
There's more where this came from. MMA isn't on a level with the rodeo and monster truck racing anymore. It's becoming interesting to the masses. And, as we've seen, that can be both a good thing and a bad thing. Both for the UFC, the MMA media, and MMA fans. Like it or not, big media is coming. Things won't likely ever be the same. The sport is all grown up - hope Zuffa has their big boy pants on. Is Dana White ready for the mainstream scrutiny that comes with mainstream publicity?