Mixed Martial Arts Latest Craze
May 30, 2007
By Brian Gabrielle
Mixed martial arts rapidly has moved into the mainstream and, by several accounts, increasingly is pushing boxing against the ropes, even in the city that has delivered some of pugilism's biggest punches.
The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) is a six-year-old league that originally was an early 1990s brainchild of a California man who wanted to find the world's greatest fighters.
It also has roots in Las Vegas and is based there as well.
Zuffa, LLC, controls the UFC and its principal owners include Frank and Lorenzo Fertitta of Station Casinos, Inc.
Wagering-wise, mixed martial arts previously mainly was a province of offshore sportsbooks, primarily Bodog.com, one of the sport's major promoters.
Bodog chief Calvin Ayre is a big mixed martial arts fan and the Antigua site was on the ground floor when its popularity began to proliferate.
Stateside betting has grown more gradually.
Currently, mixed martial arts is enjoying craze status -- at Sin City betting windows as well as with fans --as its appeal spreads across the USA.
UFC fighters suddenly are national magazine cover boys, barnstorming the country and creating rock-star atmospheres, outdrawing some of music's biggest names while its pay-per-view numbers explode.
Online forums are filled with posts that rival those of baseball, poker and the NBA Playoffs in number.
"We've been at the tipping point for a while now," UFC President Dana White, also an owner, said recently.
"We finally got to the point where we couldn't be denied anymore."
Mixed martial arts, for the unintiated, is an intense combat sport in which competitors use interdisciplinary forms of fighting that include jiu-jitsu, judo, karate, boxing, kickboxing, wrestling and others to their strategic and tactical advantage in a supervised match.
Considered brutal in its early stages, the sport struggled for about a decade before modifications and rule revisions eventually led to acceptance
Fighters compete in octagonal-shaped cages, using sanctioned equipment.
Nearly 15,000 turned out at the MGM Garden Arena last weekend for the UFC's light heavyweight title bout between Chuck "The Iceman" Liddell -- mixed martial arts' marquee attraction -- and Quinton "The Rampage" Jackson, including many high rollers who flew in just for the fight.
While big-money players backed heavy favorite Liddell, who opened at minus $2.80 after being unbeatable over the past three years, underdog bettors held a majority of tickets.
They were amply rewarded, as well as stunned, when Jackson quickly disposed of Liddell with an unexpected first round knockout.
Vegas bookmakers were pleased with the handle, though they acknowledged mixed martial arts still has a ways to go to reach the wagering levels of big-time boxing.
"I've said it before and I'll say it a million times, boxing needs to make some changes," MGM-Mirage book boss Robert Walker told the Las Vegas Review-Journal, likening the May 5 Oscar DeLaHoya-Floyd Mayweather boxing megabout to a mini-Super Bowl.
Mayweather won that match in a split decision.
Walker noted a particular need for open scoring.
"I think that's what's so attractive about the UFC," he continued.
"It rarely goes to decision and it's usually not controversial.
"It's just so much better from that standpoint."
Jeff Sherman, a supervisor at the Las Vegas Hilton, agrees with Walker's assessment.
Sherman, who began posting the UFC when he was at the Palms three or four years ago, says the public views mixed martial arts as being more action-packed than boxing.
"The perception is the fighters just get in a cage and go at it," Sherman said.
"It's quick and they (bettors) like that there are a lot fewer decisions
"We have a lot of people here who are interested in it."
Saturday night's MGM match drew "a ton" of handle, according to Sherman.
"It does any time Liddell fights," he said.
"The undercard did well also."
Walker and Sherman concur the sport's popularity hasn't even begun to peak.
"It's escalating greatly," Sherman observed.
"UFC is the new thing and I don't see it subsiding.
"I think it's going to get better.
"People know about these fighters.
"It's huge right now."
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