For those within arms’ distance of joining the worlds’ largest and most prestigious MMA organization, the UFC has offered several pathways. The Ultimate Fighter. Dana White’s Contender Series. This year, the UFC introduced a third, new entry point: Road to UFC.
Where the Ultimate Fighter focuses on the skill development of up and coming athletes, Dana White’s Contender Series is really a way to narrow down the large pool of fighters who are essentially ready to join the promotion. Given certain personalities and skills, stars can emerge from either platform.
By contrast, Road to UFC is focused more on developing a whole market or region of talent through representative athletes. Like The Ultimate Fighter, fighters must fight multiple times before officially entering the UFC. But unlike The Ultimate Fighter, the Road to UFC fights take place with several months in between, rather than a few weeks.
The fighters participating in Road to UFC get full training camps in their preferred location, maximizing their growth between fights. Since they are ideally fighting some of the best competition of their careers, the higher stakes push them to take their training camps with utmost dedication.
Underdeveloped Regional Markets
Because this special format honed in on widespread development, it’s ideal for underdeveloped regional markets for two reasons:
First, the raw athletic ability may be there, but elite-level skills may not be. The promise of a UFC contract to a group of contestants (absent of the usual contract earners from the U.S., Brazil, or Russia) injects life and a sense of hope into a greener MMA market. Road to UFC supercharges the development of a market.
For example, take Jeka Saragih, a finalist in the current Asia edition of Road to UFC. Because of the stakes, Saragih’s former promoter One Pride MMA, sponsored him to train in San Diego with elite talent to prepare him for his semifinal fight. Likely in thanks to that level of training, Saragih shone his semifinal fight.
Second, Road to UFC is ideal for developing markets because of the potential to create indigenous stars. Again, the Asian version of Road to UFC has been a grand success in this area. The tournament has already turned Jeka Saragih and India’s Anshul Jubli into national heroes, and their social media following completely eclipses that of their fellow finalists from more traditionally MMA-knowledgable countries.
With that description of the ideal effect of Road to UFC, here are three markets that would benefit from a Road to UFC tournament:
Perhaps the most obvious choice for this list is Africa. Everyone from Francis Ngannou to Kamaru Usman has said that Africa is the next big frontier for MMA. The UFC could hold a pay-pay-view in Nigeria or South Africa today, and have several massive fights relevant to the region.
While there’s a few breakthrough stars like the aforementioned Ngannou and Usman, the size of the continent begs the question- there’s gotta be more like them, right? There unquestionably are… The problem is identifying these stars and giving them good training and opportunities to fight solid competition. Organizations like UAE Warriors, EFC, and BRAVE CF have been doing that the last few years, and it could be fun to gather who’s available and put them in a tournament.
2. Middle East
Like Africa, the Middle East is a future mega-market. It’s actually a little farther along than Africa, with a higher frequency of shows both from the UFC (Fight Island anyone?) and investment from local governments. Abu Dhabi and Bahrain have become key cities for the UFC, BRAVE, and UAE Warriors to set up shop and host fights.
However, despite the money that the Middle East has been dumping into MMA, there’s still a pretty low representation from the region in the UFC. Mounir Lazzez looked like he could be that guy to give a face to the scores of fight fans in the area, but his results have been uneven and not all that active either. A Road to UFC tournament could pull out some future stars with colorful personalities from the Middle East.
Ok, Canada isn’t necessarily in the category of a “developing region”, but more a region that’s gone stale (at least in the sense of producing mega stars). Since Georges St-Pierre and Rory MacDonald retired, the hole they’ve left has been large. There’s always been a contingent of solid Canadian UFC fighters, but none that have punched through to the top of their divisions. A passionate Canadian fanbase has been starved for the next big names from the Great White North.
While Canadian-themed seasons of The Ultimate Fighter have already aired in the past, why not switch things up and introduce Road to UFC: Canada? Find a handful of young Canadians hungry to be in the UFC and stick them in a tournament against each other. There’s got to be two or three Canadians in that group that can carry their nation’s pride in the UFC Octagon for years to come.
Which region would you most like to see get the Road to UFC treatment, or which one should be on the list?