Worldwide, MMA is bigger than MLB, and a look at Ronda Rousey's superstar status

USA TODAY Sports

Research indicates MMA's worldwide fan base is bigger than MLB's, and that Ronda Rousey is a "breakthrough" celebrity.

UFC president Dana White has said that on a global level, the UFC is "already bigger than the NFL," and "neck and neck with soccer." We all know that White is fond of promoting the organization that he's the face of, so, for the most part those claims are taken with a grain of salt. However, there may be some fact to those bold claims.

According to sports marketing research firm Repucom, if White wants to make a comparison about the popularity of mixed martial arts and the UFC, he would be better served to compare the numbers to Major League Baseball. Repucom's research puts the number of MMA fans worldwide at 300 million, more than that of MLB's worldwide fan base.

Repucom, doesn't just look at sports leagues as a whole, it also digs into individual athletes and celebrities and tracks them under a number of different categories. As far as the popularity of the athletes in the UFC, Repucom's research revealed some surprising stats.

One of the categories Repucom uses is something called Celebrity DBI. According to the company, Celebrity DBI is "an independent index that quantifies and qualifies consumer perceptions of celebrities."

The perception of MMA fans is that former middleweight champion Anderson Silva is one of the UFC's biggest international stars. The Celebrity DBI numbers back up that assertion. Silva's rank makes him the ninth biggest trendsetter in Brazil. Silva is also the tenth most influential celebrity in his home country and the 16th strongest endorser. 97 percent of the Brazilian market knows Anderson Silva.

Impressive? Sure, but numbers don't really tell the entire picture when it comes to Silva's popularity in Brazil. When considering only athletes, Silva ranks sixth on the celebrity DBI. The only athletes ranked higher than Silva are soccer stars Ronaldo Luís Nazário de Lima, Lionel Messi, Marta Vieira da Silva, Pele and David Beckham. Some of the athletes that Silva ranks higher than are Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo and Michael Jordan.

Another fighter that comes immediately to mind when talking UFC fighters with international appeal is long-time welterweight champion Georges St-Pierre. St-Pierre's numbers in the United States put him ahead of MLB players Bryce Harper and Albert Pujols in the Influence category and in the top 17 percent for Endorsement.

That Endorsement number places St-Pierre ahead of MLB player Justin Upton who recently scored a deal with 5 gum.

UFC women's bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey owns some of the more surprising numbers. Rousey ranks high in the Breakthrough category, scoring a 72.23. That category measures "the extent to which consumers pay attention to a celebrity when they see him/her in the media."

Rousey's numerical rank makes her 33rd out of 3,127 celebrities in the U.S. That number puts Rousey in the top 3 percent in the Breakthrough category, trouncing tennis star Serena Williams, who ranks 1,914.

As for UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, he's in the top 32 percent in the Repucom database for likeability.

Looking outside the UFC, Repucom finds that Fedor Emelianenko, despite retiring from fighting in 2012, remains a very popular figure. In Russia, 80 percent of the public knows of Emelianenko. Emelianenko, the former Pride champion, is the number nine-ranked athlete in the Russian database, putting him ahead of Messi, and NHL superstar Alexander Ovechkin.

It's doubtful that we'll hear White change his tune about the UFC being bigger than the NFL and closing in on soccer, because let's face it, MLB comparisons aren't as sexy as NFL and soccer. Big picture, that MLB comparison is impressive when you consider the UFC will be celebrating its 20th anniversary this year while professional baseball began in the late 1800's.

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