From Boxing to Bare Knuckle: How More Fight Based Sports Are Making Waves

Sep 18, 2023
A. J. Riot

Fields, arenas, courts, rinks, stadia. Whatever it may be played on, or in, people are obsessed with sport. For millions, whatever other entertainment they may enjoy, it’s what goes on in the ring that matters. Since the dawn of time, mankind has been fighting one way or another, but when it comes to sport, it’s all about finesse, strength, and physical stamina. Is it any surprise that it is so popular when you consider this intoxicating mix?

Ever since the Marquess of Queensberry first wrote the now eponymous rules for the ancient sport of boxing, it was popular. As history, time, and the sport itself has progressed, there are many other fighting contests that have now emerged as globally watched, commercially viable, and in terms of existing and potential supporters, marketing dreams. Sumo, pro-wrestling, kickboxing, Judo, and the global phenomena that is MMA, all watched, loved and, in some cases, practiced by millions.

When I mentioned marketing dreams, I meant it. Take betting, for example. Previously, you would have struggled to find a bookmaker or online platform offering serious odds and spread bets on these more recent fighting contests, but they too have seen the potential of these. The betting opportunities for various sports like MMA, kick boxing, and even YouTube personality fighting bouts are now huge, mainstream, and more importantly, lucrative. So, what has created this market, and how is it growing? Let’s take a stab at answering that, at least in part.

Online Exposure Forges Global Markets for Formerly Niche Sporting Contests

It’s fair to assert that certain sports have always had a global following. Even before the dawn of worldwide satellite or cable television access and the now all-conquering internet, football (or soccer, if you prefer), cricket, golf, American sports, and leagues such as the NFL, NBA, NFL, and NHL, as well as things like the Olympics have always attracted and maintained gigantic fan bases. But for contest such as MMA, kick boxing and even those fight or martial art-based sports that were included in the Summer Olympics, the online world has catapulted them into the popularity stratosphere.

In part, the fact that the UFC has around 500 events annually in over 20 countries can be put down to its rapid growth in popularity. Indeed, it has been suggested by those who monitor and measure these things that, with online streaming and network coverage now global for MMA, the fan base could well exceed 300 million around the globe. These figures are staggering, considering where these events, bouts, or championships have risen from. With more exposure, you garner more fans.

It’s a simple equation but one that has been made exponential growth and popularity for fight-based sports go beyond what some may have ever imagined. Whether it’s featherweight, lightweight or perhaps the holy grail of boxing, the heavyweight contests of the sport, these fans (some, obviously not all) are often supporters of the other sports that are in the same kind of realm. For those more recent converts to these sports, be they die-hard boxing fans or simply lovers of combat such as Judo, kickboxing, or the UFC, they can most heartily thank the technology of the online world for their ability to enjoy it from around the world and around the clock.

New Events, New Fans, New Era for Sports, and Organisers

Without this online streaming and often pay-per-view events, many sports fans would not necessarily have had the opportunity to enjoy them. Put simply, unless they happened to live in one of the major cities where these events tend to be hosted, things such as MMA bouts, UFC contests or kickboxing (outside the summer Olympics) fans of these sports would not have had access to live action. To take that back a step, the growth of such sporting contests would not have grown so popular in the first place.

Ultimately, much of this comes down the online exposure and how that creates both new markets in terms of supporters but also, and all-importantly, makes all these martial arts, fighting, or mixtures of the two commercially viable. I say viable, but at this point, the online and network television coverage has made them way more than viable and made them insanely profitable. Billions is now pumped into the UFC, the fan base is truly global, the fighters now bona fide sporting superstars. Y

Yes, these sports were making waves, to return to our article header topic, before they became more widely televised, but as with many other so called ‘niche sports’, they had a loyal, dedicated and often obsessed fan base that was still relatively small and localised. Not anymore. Though they may not rival banner finals such as the soccer world cup final in terms of pure one-off even audiences, boxing, kickboxing, MMA, the UFC, even some bare-knuckle contests, are established and mainstream. I dare say, and I hope this rings true, even two decades ago there were not many who saw beyond boxing in terms of fight-based sport, where now it is just another sport in this ever-growing ring.