Saturday Star - - SPORT - | Ju­lian Kiewietz

WHAT is it about mixed martial arts (MMA) that makes it so con­ta­gious? Is it the high­pro­file stars and loud char­ac­ters who put on a spec­ta­cle? Is it the brave in­di­vid­u­als who ex­pose them­selves holis­ti­cally in­side the Hexagon, by plac­ing their mental, phys­i­cal, spir­i­tual and emo­tional ves­sels on the line, rep­re­sent­ing those who don’t have valour or willpower to face their in­ner most fears and un­leash the real cham­pion in­side?

Or is it just a sport that peo­ple love be­cause of the com­pet­i­tive ap­peal, or the abil­ity to com­bine a spec­trum of com­bat arts and tap into each weapon at will?

Some peo­ple would ar­gue that most peo­ple just love it be­cause of that deep­rooted pri­mal abil­ity of sur­vival.

What in­trigues me is that punch of en­ergy from the stands of an MMA event when an un­der­dog rises above the odds.

That rush of fight and an­i­mal within that says “I will not give up”, but which we as hu­mans dif­fer­en­ti­ate our­selves from an­i­mals by salut­ing our com­peti­tors after­wards, is an act I ad­mire.

Of course, no mat­ter how great a prod­uct or idea can be, it will never be as great with­out a lit­tle bit of mar­ket­ing.

And de­spite be­ing in ex­is­tence for a long time, the MMA brand has been cat­a­pulted fur­ther via so­cial and broad­cast me­dia.

“I think glob­ally this sport has just been tak­ing off. If you think back, four or five years ago, no­body even heard of a Conor Mcgre­gor (UFC su­per­star) and ev­ery­body knows who he is,” says EFC pres­i­dent, Cairo Howarth of the man who owned two ti­tles in the big­gest MMA pro­mo­tion in the world.

Mcgre­gor is that out-there per­son­al­ity who has taken the sport to an­other level. The man­ner in which he be­lieved in him­self of­ten left weak-minded fighters doubt­ing them­selves, which played a huge role in the psy­cho­log­i­cal game in the build-up to the fight.

And as in life, what goes on in your brain will of­ten de­ter­mine what plays out through your ac­tions.

He spoke a big game and de­liv­ered on the hype … most times. Mcgre­gor changed the game of the sport in a sense, but he was just a por­tion of the change.

“And like Conor, the same ap­plies across the board. The sport has just been pick­ing up ev­ery­where,” says Howarth.

“Africa is no ex­cep­tion to the growth. In the last two years, the broad­cast­ing on SABC has been huge. We’ve put huge rat­ings up last year, hav­ing over 20 mil­lion South Africans there last year watch­ing the EFC on SABC … that is one in three South Africans. It puts us right up there with the most watched sport (rugby, soc­cer, cricket). Com­bined with the level of ath­leti­cism, the fights have just been get­ting bet­ter.”

Fighters such as Dri­cus du Plessis and Don Madge are just a few of the lo­cal brands who have stepped up on the in­ter­na­tional stage, prov­ing the po­ten­tial that African MMA has to of­fer.

Du Plessis holds two belts in the EFC and will try to re­claim his third belt in the KSW pro­mo­tion next year, while Madge gave up his light­weight belt to par­take in the UFC, which was one suc­cess­ful de­but af­ter fin­ish­ing Te Edwards this year.

Just re­cently the UFC signed with Su­pers­port to be broad­cast from Jan­uary 2019. Some could say that it was a sharp move for Su­pers­port to tap into that mar­ket to try and sal­vage some sub­scribers, con­sid­er­ing the drop in mem­ber­ship due to their ridicu­lous prices. But they know that there is a ma­jor mar­ket latched onto the UFC … and who knows they might just look at the EFC soon too.

“From an EFC point of view, we have an un­be­liev­able ex­pan­sion plan across Africa from a TV broad­cast point of view.

“Ba­si­cally what we have seen of ex­po­sure of the EFC in South Africa, we want the same across Africa, so we are in dis­cus­sion with free TV and TV net­works where we will be do­ing deals that will see EFC on free to air tele­vi­sion in Nige­ria, An­gola, Ghana, Kenya, Uganda and ev­ery­where. That is go­ing to see a whole new level of in­ter­est not only from a fan point of view, but also from a fighter’s point of view. Our goal in 2019 is to be the sec­ond most watched sport in Africa.”

EFC broad­casts live in over 120 coun­tries around the world on nu­mer­ous tele­vi­sion net­works in mul­ti­ple lan­guages.

So who do we thank for this me­te­oric rise of the sport … the MMA bosses, the well-trained fighters, the big per­son­al­i­ties, or do we thank the fans, the peo­ple who find a con­nec­tion to that woman or man stand­ing with their hands up ready to face the chal­lenges in front of them?

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