This weekend will mark the long-awaited return of the UFC to Brazil after a thirteen year absence. It is being welcomed with open arms by mobs of Brazilian fans and media, and it will likely breed extensive opportunities for the UFC in the sponsorship department. It's a marriage that could help the UFC become an international powerhouse in the combat sports industry.
Unlike Japan, Brazil doesn't possess a myriad of cultural hurdles or marketing obstacles. It's a country that is enjoying exponential growth in the business sector, and it's on pace to become the world's fifth largest economy. Japan's status as an appealing destination for combat sports' entities relied heavily on the idea that it is the motherland of mixed martial arts. The country once housed one of the most celebrated promotions the world has ever seen in the PRIDE Fighting Championships.
Times have changed. The Japanese mixed martial arts scene is a shell of its former glory, and while the historical market trends indicate that we will one day see a rise to MMA in Japan once again -- it is a financial pitfall right now. The benefits of returning to Brazil for four, five, or even six events per year are far more enticing.
Aside from the fact that mixed martial arts is ingrained in the culture of the country, some of the UFC's biggest and brightest call the South American country home. The idea that the UFC could fill the Convention Center of Manaus, which can seat up to 100,000 spectators, isn't so far fetched given the draw of a few marquee Brazilian fighters and the interest in the sport.
The country's current status financially causes some heads to turn when we look at what the UFC charges for tickets stateside. That shouldn't matter however. The UFC sold out UFC 134: Rio in 74 minutes. That should be a clear indication that the sport can succeed with varying ticket prices based on economic conditions.
The ultimate goal isn't gate revenue in the long-term. It's proving their drawing power and fishing for big name sponsors willing to shell out enormous amounts of cash. In Brazil, blue-chip sponsors may not be afraid to associate with a sport whose basis revolves around two human beings bludgeoning each other or attempting to break one's limbs. Those opportunities become possible if the UFC can draw in massive crowds.
Sustainability is another talking point to consider, although there isn't much of a debate. The Brazilian MMA scene is burgeoning with prospects. It's one of the toughest regional scenes to battle in. It possesses world class trainers in both Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, two martial arts that have produced some of the sport's most prolific fighters. Camp rivalries have taken the skills of the developing talent to new levels that their counterparts in other countries can't mimic. In short, Brazil's minor leagues are the UFC's perfect farm system.
To top it off, incredible stories lie in the trenches of the gyms in Brazil. Consider the tales of Rousimar Palhares or Jose Aldo. Pure "rags to riches" storylines that can add the drama component that fans need to connect to the product, even in America.
Brazil is a rewarding venture right now for Zuffa. The opportunity for major sponsorship deals, an endless pool of developing talent, and the economic growth that the country is enjoying lend credence to the notion that the UFC should bolster their initiative to continue their presence in the country. Japan in 2012? Forget about it. Brazil is where the money lies.