The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) will continue to be the dominant force in global mixed martial arts (MMA) for a very long time.

But what makes the UFC so special and how are its competitors trying to close the gap?

UFC: The face of MMA

While avid fans may be familiar with the complex MMA ecosystem, the wider population typically thinks of MMA in connection with the UFC. The UFC has come a long way from its beginnings in 1993, from being banned in most US states to becoming one of the largest combat sports organizations in the world.

Strategic partnerships are key for any sports organization to grow and increase exposure. With global reach and hardcore fans, the UFC hosts large events all over the world at a pace other MMA organizations cannot keep up with. Partnerships and collaborations with various organizations and platforms in different countries,—such as ADM Sports in the UAE and BT Sports in the UK—have allowed the UFC to dominate viewership levels. The ownership structure of the UFC gives the organization a significant advantage. Since the merger between the WWE and UFC to create TKO Group Holdings, the UFC falls under the ownership of IMG Endeavor. The sports marketing powerhouse allows the UFC to not only further develop its sports media rights partnerships but also new commercial models like toys and video games, which the WWE has been doing successfully for several decades.

The UFC takes young up-and-coming fighters and turns them into superstars, with the most prominent example being Conor McGregor. There are many paths to enter the UFC that give them the edge in talent acquisition, whether it is through a show like The Ultimate Fighter or a lower-level MMA organization such as Cage Warriors in the UK. Becoming a UFC champion is the goal of every fighter entering MMA. The UFC’s global talent pathways have gained it an almost unlimited flow of talented fighters looking to make names for themselves. 

A new challenger appears

The Professional Fighters League’s (PFL) acquisition of Bellator in 2023 sent shockwaves through the MMA fan base, with many wondering what this means for the UFC. The acquisition has given the PFL access to a significant amount of talent, with a roster that is 30% comprised of fighters who are top 25 independently world-ranked in their weight classes, which is the same number as the UFC. The PFL has announced plans for several mega events in 2024, in an effort to become an industry co-leader.

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Another organization making waves in the MMA world is ONE Championship. Based out of Singapore and mainly hosting events in Thailand, ONE Championship is a household name in MMA. While the organization mainly focuses on Muay Thai, claiming to have the world’s best striking fighters, ONE is continually developing its MMA talent. ONE has increased its global presence through social media and strategic partnerships, such as its deal with Sky Sports in the UK.

The future of MMA

While many may wonder what the future holds for global MMA, it is clear that the UFC will be at the forefront of it. The future of MMA is looking bright, with more organizations becoming popular, fighters’ abilities reaching new levels, and global recognition increasing.

However, the UFC’s extensive reach and extremely developed network will keep it at the top of MMA in the foreseeable future. Whether it is the UFC games developed by Electronic Arts or ambitious plans to hold an event in the Las Vegas Sphere, the UFC continues to develop its international empire and it will be a long time before it is dethroned.