Europe isn’t much different. What was once a tepid MMA market seems to be heating up. The UFC’s travels to Europe have been slightly more successful than their Asian excursions, but whether that’s by accident or design isn’t entirely clear.
Take this past weekend’s UFC Fight Night 109. That happened to be an excellent card in the end, but on paper, it certainly looked weak. That tends to happen at times, but really, in a market where the UFC is still gaining a foothold, the promotion would be best served to bolster the line-up just a little. Why gamble? In the days leading up to UFC Stockholm, there were definitely complains about the perceived depth of the card. Was anyone expecting much outside of the main and co-main light heavyweight fights on Sunday?
Still, the UFC is feeling increased pressure in Europe, on two fronts: promotions like ACB, M-1, and others are more than happy to sign away UFC stars. And the UFC’s biggest competitor, Bellator MMA, has made Europe, and particularly London, a frequent stop. Bellator 179 may not have been a ratings smash thanks to airing on Spike TV with a tape delay, but the card itself stacked up nicely when compared to UFC Fight Night 108.
More importantly, the buzz around the event seemed just a little bit more positive than that around the UFC’s most recent visit across the pond. That Fight Night card again felt like an afterthought. Rory MacDonald’s debut was a big deal. Paul Daley the local wrecking machine.
Manuwa vs. Anderson? Well, Jimi Manuwa might be first in line for a title shot now. If the promotion doesn’t change its mind and give it to Alexander Gustafsson after his performance Sunday. And at the time, Manuwa vs. Anderson certainly wasn’t billed as a title eliminator.
The fact is, there will always be competition at some level. The exciting thing about the UFC in previous years, however, was that you knew the best of the best were there (mostly), fighting under one banner. That’s no longer the case. Other promotions have fired the opening salvo, and won the first skirmish of what could turn out to be an international MMA war. They don’t need to topple the UFC overnight. That simply won’t happen, not for a long time. Seeing these promotions beat the UFC at its own game, however, says a lot about where MMA’s biggest player is at.