Michel Pereira is one of a kind.
Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) is the fastest growing sport in the world according to a report by MMAPayout, and this recent boom is essentially a result of the rapid growth of the Las Vegas based UFC.
Once seen as barbaric tournaments, where the victor would require fighting three men in succession before collapsing battered, exhausted and desperate for oxygen, the UFC has transformed this common misconception into recognition of greatness.
Australia has hosted four UFC events on its shores, with the most recent sellout event on the Gold Coast attracting more than 5,000 fans and generating more than $1 million in ticket sales alone.
It’s these types of figures that raise concerns over Victoria’s, and Western Australia’s, decision to ban the use of a fenced enclosure, or ‘cage’, during MMA competition.
All MMA competitions in Victoria are currently held inside a boxing ring. Countless times during televised fights we have seen two fighters tumble through the ropes and fall onto the canvas below, sometimes sustaining serious and even career-ending injuries.
The rules for MMA in Victoria changed as a result of these falls, enabling the referee to move the fighters back to the centre of the ring when the contestants are against the ropes.
Nonetheless, the risk fighters face of falling through the ropes remains high. Not only does this disrupt the fighters as they reset their positions, but according to the experts is primarily responsible for the deterioration in crowd numbers and lack of interest from many television networks.
Herein lies a legislative issue that the UFC has encountered several times before. Victoria and Western Australia are now the only two places in the world not to comply with the UFC requirements, instead remaining steadfast to their own rules.
Speaking at a press conference in Brisbane, Director of UFC Operations in Australia, New Zealand and Canada, Tom Wright, said the UFC will not visit a state unless the Octagon was permitted.
“We will not change our stance,” said Wright. “We will not take an event into a jurisdiction where the Octagon is not permitted.
“Allowing our athletes to compete in a boxing ring is unsafe and unfair, and we will never compromise the safety of our athletes, regardless what it means in terms of building our business.”
Wright has also been in discussion with Etihad Stadium, believing a UFC event held at the 53,000 capacity venue could possibly convince the Victorian government to change its stance, thus generating much needed revenue.
“We brought forward our case that an event in Victoria would be a significant economic benefit to the entire state. We would like to take our first event to Etihad. We feel that we will have an economic impact of 40 or 50 million dollars, but the government needs to change its position and hopefully that will happen soon,” Wright said.
In 2010, UFC 110 was held at the Acer Arena in Sydney selling 18,000 tickets in less than 22 minutes, with promoters claiming that 60 percent of these sales were to Victorians. These ticket sales generated a $14 million payout to the host city.
Despite the hesitance displayed by the incumbent Victorian government, the Labor opposition has expressed interest in bringing the sport to the state.
Shadow Minister for Sport and Recreation, John Eren, leads the opposition’s charge, stating the popularity of the sport is at an all-time high and Victoria needs to capitalise on this demand.
In an interview with The Fighter’s Hub, Mr Eren said the Federal Government needs to step in and get a handle of this situation as the demand for UFC across the nation remains immense.
“I actually attended the UFC fight just last year just before Christmas at the Gold Coast Convention Centre and as I understand it, for the first time ever that Convention Centre was packed to capacity,” Eren said.
“And as I understand it, 40 percent of those people that attended the UFC at the Gold Coast were from Victoria. There is no question that there is a demand here.”
The growing number of underground cage fighting leagues has plagued the state as a direct result of the current legislation. Those caught running or participating in these leagues are handed a $12,000 fine or a 12 month prison sentence.
Mr Eren believes lifting the restriction of the Octagon would begin to eradicate this criminal activity.
“There’s no question, and it’s proven in the past, that if you ban things it will just go underground. And the underground criminals of this stipulation, which are a minority but they exist, will flourish. It will certainly decrease the amount of underground cage fights that may occur.”
The desire for the UFC to come to Melbourne is clearly there, with many diehard fans willing to travel interstate just to get a glimpse of the fastest growing sport in the world.
And with the UFC effectively banned in Victoria since 2007 despite strong economic factors interstate, we may need to wait until the 2014 Victorian election to lift the troubling ban.