The UFC announced that they will be sponsoring the European Judo Championships this year, which will take place in Glasgow's Emirates Arena from 9th to 12th of April. According to a press release, the UFC is working closely together with the British Combat Sports Federation, and supporting them with "branding, marketing and also the promotion of the event". The announcement was made in Glasgow yesterday, with Scottish UFC fighters Robert Whiteford and Joanne Calderwood being in attendance.
Former Judoka Whiteford said:
"It's superb to see the cross collaboration between mixed martial arts and individual combat sports. This is the development of sport and it's important to embrace it. Sharing techniques, skills and knowledge is important for personal, professional and physical development. The UFC's involvement in supporting the European Judo Championships cements that forward thinking."
The European Judo Championships have an over 60-year long history. But Judo, like most other amateur-combat sports, struggles with financial problems, declining attendance figures and overall popularity. A little backup by the UFC's marketing machinery could do wonders for the traditional Olympic discipline.
A win-win Strategy
Let's make one thing clear: The UFC doesn't do this solely for charity; it's a smart business move. First of all, committing yourself to an established, traditional Olympic sport such as Judo can help finding new allies when it comes to fighting critics in media or politics, and will help gain more credibility that is useful for negotiations when dealing with resistant broadcasting and advertising partners.
David Allen, head of the UFC's European division put it this way:
"MMA is made up of a number of different combat sports and the UFC feels it is important to see individual disciplines thrive, as well as promoting mixed martial arts."
It's a give and take, and as Allen and his predecessor Gary Cook have explained multiple times, they are planning long-term in their Euro-expansion. For continuous success, what is the most crucial commodity you need if you want to run a profitable combat sports organization? You need great fighters.
Although there are a couple of outstanding athletes from the European circuit, like Conor McGregor, Alexander Gustafsson, Michael Bisping to name a few, this is still a part of the world that lacks young talent. While the US can count on good wrestling program in high schools and colleges that produces promising talent year after year, there is nothing like that in Europe. Only a chosen few, obsessed with the dream of someday winning an Olympic gold medal, follow their goals and make great sacrifices to compete at the highest level.
If you see how many top UFC fighters from the US have an extensive wrestling background, it shows how important amateur-sports are for constantly cultivating new up-and-comers. Basically, with this sponsorship agreement the UFC is also financing their own future talent pool. Because with more money involved, there is better branding and better promotion, which will help the sport of Judo becomes more attractive, not just for spectators, but for competitors as well.
Competitors that one day might be fighting in the Octagon. Competitors like UFC bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey for example, who fulfilled her dream of winning an Olympic medal in Judo in 2008 and is now one of the biggest UFC superstars of all time.
This is an Instagram picture of UFC fighter Joanne Calderwood in the Emirates Arena before the announcement yesterday. Pretty big venue for a Judo contest: