Anyone who knows me knows how passionate I am for MMA.
I have watched the sport grow from its image as ‘brutal cage fighting’ into arguably one of the most popular sports in the world today.
I have seen champions rise and fall and I have seen legends cemented in history.
For years in New Zealand, MMA was very similar to Professional Wrestling in the early 90’s. People enjoyed watching it but weren’t open fans of the sport out of fear that they would be thrown in with the stereotypes that surrounded it.
For a long time it was – and to a minority of people today, still is – a blood sport, something that modern society shrunk away from, feeling that the brutality of it went against the progressive nature of the world around them.
Then in the mid 2000’s, the popularity of the sport took off in America (thanks to UFC 52 and its record Pay Per View buys) and like many things, it began to influence how people in New Zealand felt towards the sport.
In what seemed like a nearly overnight process, stores across New Zealand were suddenly churning out TapOut gear (even though if you asked half the people who actually wear that gear who Royce Gracie is, they probably wouldn’t have a clue-but that’s another column altogether).
Suddenly MMA was in demand and the UFC was the head of the juggernaut. It wasn’t long before fans in the Southern Hemisphere (myself included) were clamouring for UFC to bring their brand of combat Down Under to New Zealand and Australia and for a long time it felt like it was never going to happen.
As much as the hardcore fans wanted it, UFC didn’t seem to think that the trip down would be beneficial to them enough on a financial level. Then UFC 110 came along.
It was announced mid 2009: The UFC were finally going to come down south to Australia. Not only that but they were having a Pay Per View, live in Melbourne.
Even for the Kiwis that had to fork out the extra cash for travel, it was worth it for the experience.
UFC 110 was headlined by a heavyweight clash between Antonio Nogueira and Cain Velasquez and at that point was the 2nd fastest ever sell-out the UFC had ever had.
Interest in the combat sports had reached new heights on both sides of the Tasman and the UFC found a new untapped market for their product to reach.
Fast forward to 2015 and the intake for MMA classes are at an all time high. High schools are sending students to Greco Roman classes to improve their tackling skills for rugby. Mixed Martial Arts is recognised as the fastest growing sport in the world right now, breaking Pay Per View records left, right and centre.
The most well known female athlete in the world right now is a UFC Champion.
And now, after all the years of pushing for something that fight fans across the Tasman could really sink their teeth into, after all the online campaigns and hashtags imaginable, the UFC has given us UFC 193.
Arguably the most stacked card in terms of drawing power in a while, the UFC have put together a card that shows that they truly have faith in the appeal of MMA in Australia and New Zealand.
The card is headlined by the biggest superstar in sports today with the Undefeated Champion Ronda Rousey in probably the largest mismatch I have seen in recent memory with the number 8 ranked Holly Holm.
Rousey is on a hot streak of matches going under a minute against top contenders while Holm barely managed to win her last match via decision.
Holm’s evasive boxing skills may allow this one to go past the one minute mark but I honestly can’t see it lasting more than a round, especially if Ronda takes it to the ground.
A complete mismatch on paper but one that the live audience will be loud for.
The undercard should not be called so. It features two other matches that could be deemed ‘Main Event’ status fights when headlining in Australia.
Not only have UFC given us a ‘Rowdy’ Ronda Rousey match but they have also given us a rematch of arguably the greatest heavyweight clash in UFC history with Mark Hunt facing off once again with Antonio Silva.
‘The Super Samoan’ will be the home country favourite. The Kiwi-raised fighter, residing in Australia went the distance against Silva in their last epic fight with its being ruled a majority draw with one judge ruling it 48-47 in Hunts favour while the other two judges ruled it 47-47.
Antonio will be out to redeem himself after failing the post-fight test for elevated testosterone levels after the last match. This alone has all the drawing power of a headline Main Event and those fans that don’t want to see a one sided beat down with Rousey v Holm should be held over with this colossus heavyweight brawl.
The other match on the under card that could of potentially headlined UFC 193 is the UFC veteran Michael Bisping taking on another home country sweetheart, Robert Whittaker.
Whittaker is an Australian born fighter of Maori descent and is the underdog in this case of the young buck taking on the old stallion. A win over someone at the level of Bisping could shoot Robert into the Top 10 of the Middleweight division along with a possible future title shot.
Bisping at this stage of his career is 36, 12 years older than the young Australian. While not a spring chicken in the Octagon, Bisping still has all the fire power to take out any young fighter who is brave enough to try make a name for themselves at his expense.
This should be an exciting fight with interesting implications for the winner. A win may see the Australian go from #14 to the Top 10 but on the other side of the coin, if Michael is to defeat the home town hero, we may see the old guard get one more title shot.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to UFC 193, happening November 14th at the Etihad Stadium in Melbourne. This card is not only a statement to how much the sport of MMA has grown in Australia and New Zealand but a thank you from the UFC to the loyal crowd of fight fans down here that fought for years against prejudice and stereotypes that have surrounded this great sport.
This is hopefully just a beginning for what is yet to come when it comes to UFC coming to the Tasman and perhaps in a few years, New Zealand may even get its own UFC Pay Per View.
One thing is for sure, looking at this amazing card for UFC 193, the fight for Down Under was well and truly worth it.