With FIFA World Cup fast approaching, UFC still not bigger than soccer

Alexandre Loureiro

The 2014 FIFA World Cup begins this Thursday, but if you were to believe notable UFC figures, soccer's time as the world's most popular sport is just about up.

This Thursday marks the beginning of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, where 32 teams will vie for international soccer's biggest prize. As expected, the host nation, who have won the most World Cups with 5, are the big favorites to win it all in front of their soccer-mad citizens.

Globally, an estimated 915 million viewers saw at least part of the 2010 World Cup Final in South Africa, and that number is expected to hit the 1 billion mark for this year. You do not have to be a fan of the sport to recognize its popularity around the world, and I've merely isolated these facts to international soccer, much less the local prestige of club leagues in places such as England, Germany, Spain, Italy, Brazil, and Mexico. But all of this evidence has not stopped Dana White and company from years upon years of spouting off about how big the sport of MMA (more specifically the UFC) is compared to soccer, and how they've projected themselves to be bigger than the galaxy. It's a phantom war that only the UFC believes is real and is winning.

Of course, those repeated assertions are ambitious but ultimately laughable, hence the sarcastic tone of this article's title. With kickoff just days away between Brazil and Croatia, I thought it'd be fun to take a chronological look at some of the best quotes from Zuffa notables Dana White, Lorenzo Fertitta, and Joe Rogan on the subject of how the UFC can achieve "world domination". For reference, any quote that includes "biggest sport in the world" already implies "bigger than soccer", thus gets lumped in the bucket with direct statements:

Dana White, UFC president

June 2008 - Sports Illustrated

"Remember that I told you this: in the next five to eight years, this thing's going to be the biggest sport in the world -- bigger than the [deleted expletive] NFL, bigger than Major League Soccer, bigger than World Cup soccer or whatever the hell they call it. Bigger than anything. So remember I told you that."

December 2009 - Las Vegas Sun

"UFC will be the biggest sport in the world by 2020."

February 2011 - MMA Junkie Radio

"The one thing that I always say about this - and that I've been saying for 10 years, too, and people call me a lunatic - is that I say this is going to be the biggest sport in the world.

We take these fights all over the world, and people care everywhere about them. For instance, it's like when we went up to Montreal and headlined with two Brazilians, and everybody showed up to watch the fight. That's unheard of. It's like saying if a different soccer team came into England and didn't play England everybody would go and watch it. I don't believe that. As big as soccer is, if two different soccer teams that weren't England played in England, nobody would give a [expletive]."

That's right! If Spain were to play Germany at Wembley Stadium I doubt anyone would show up to watch two of the best teams in the world. England isn't involved so soccer interest ceases. But give the audience Chris Leben/Mark Munoz and they're swarming to the arena.

May 2012 - Wall Street Journal

"We're neck-and-neck with soccer. Soccer isn't huge here in the United States, but all over the world it is. The only other thing that could work is fighting."

June 2012 - CNBC

I think we're going to be the biggest sport in the world. Bigger than the NFL. Bigger than soccer. Bigger than anybody. This thing crosses borders so well that, like, for instance, soccer's huge all over the world. It's never really become big here in the United States. NFL is huge here in the US. Isn't big anywhere else. I put two guys in an octagon. They can use any martial art they want. It transcends all cultural barriers, all language barriers, because I don't care what color you are, what country you come from or what language you speak, we're all human beings. And fighting's in our DNA. We get it and we like it.

May 2013 - Manchester Evening News

"In Brazil we are bigger than soccer and soccer is pretty damn big in Brazil."

May 2013 - Bloomberg

"It's the fastest growing sport in the world and it's going to be the biggest sport in the world."

You heard it from Dana White himself. Brazil's passionate love of soccer has been overtaken by their undying thirst to see Fabio Maldonado get wiped out by Stipe Miocic. Within 3 years I fully believe that Anderson Silva will be known more in Brazilian households than Pele.

Joe Rogan, UFC lead analyst and noted non-watcher of sports

April 2009 - MMA Ring Report

Reporter: "Has the sport peaked? Is there room for the UFC and MMA to grow?

Rogan: "I think it can be the biggest sport in the world. It translates perfectly to every single language and every single culture, pretty much. There's always young men who enjoy watching fighting, even in conservative cultures you're going to have a big audience for something like this all over the world. I think it can be bigger than soccer, I think it can be bigger than every other sport in the world."

A sport that can translate perfectly to every single language and culture with a big audience around the world? I can think of one that fits the description....

June 2011 - USA TODAY

I think the sport is going to be bigger than soccer and football combined.

I think there are huge, huge fights to be made in the future, and those fights will bring excitement. I don't think the pay-per-view rates have even come close to their peak. What we're going to see in the future is this sport starting to overcome the rest of the combat sports, like boxing, and then eventually it's going to overcome football, it's going to overcome soccer, and it's going to become a worldwide phenomenon. It's already, just in the last few years, become enormous in the U.K. and Europe, where it was completely non-existent before.

And for my personal favorite chart-topping remark:

Lorenzo Fertitta, Zuffa co-founder and UFC CEO

March 2014 - Bloomberg

"One thing that we found about our sport is it's very transportable. [MMA] truly is the only global sport. I mean, you think about the sports landscape in the different markets ... in the US it's all about the NFL, in the UK it's all about the Premier League, in India it's all about cricket. A lot of those sports have a hard time really transferring popularity into different countries and cultures. We have a sport when you put two athletes at the highest level and let them compete using any martial art in the Octagon, that works everywhere. Every country, every culture gets it immediately because it's the most simple form of sport."

I think it's best to close this out with quips from both Dana and Rogan, whose profound distaste for the sport itself perhaps clouds their judgement to perform even an ounce of research and understand what a gigantic (and realistically impossible) task lies ahead of them for the UFC to conquer every continent in the world, right down to the underground world of penguin MMA in Antarctica.

Dana White, March 2012: "Soccer is the least-talented sport on Earth" (Calgary Sun)

Q: As you know, we love our hockey here. And it remains the only other pro sport that allows fighting. Curious as to your thoughts on fighting in hockey?

A: I'm not a big hockey fan. But I respect how talented you have to be to play hockey. Soccer? That's a whole other ball. Can't stand soccer. It's the least-talented sport on Earth. There's a reason three-year-olds can play soccer. When you're playing a game when the net is that big and the score is 3-1 (and that's a blowout) are you kidding me? You know how untalented you have to be to score three times when the net is that big? Now back to hockey. You have guys on skates with crooked sticks and you have to hit a puck into a net that's the same size as the goalie. And at any time someone could take your head right off your shoulders and it's perfectly legal. That's a real sport that takes real talent, speed and all the things you need to be a real athlete. Now fighting is a part of hockey and has been since Day 1. It's part of the game. It is what it is. I think we live in a world now where everything has been so pussy-fied. When I grew up we didn't wear helmets when we rode our bikes. We didn't have car seats. We didn't have all this stuff. Now things are safer and we should be safer but let's not go overboard. Fighting's a part of hockey. Period.

Joe Rogan, 1999 - Soccer Sucks


If soccer has indeed been surpassed by the UFC in Brazil, then you can expect eyeballs to be glued onto the screen, bypassing World Cup coverage -- including a 9 PM ET game between Japan and Ivory Coast -- for UFC 174. It makes perfect sense.

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