JOHANNESBURG - It’s been a record-breaking week for MMA in South Africa and the rest of the world, not necessarily in PPV ratings but regarding many matters titular. In The UFC, Stipe Miocic set a promotional record for the most consecutive title defences of the heavyweight division with three. After a competitive first round against the Cameroonian challenger Francis N’Gannou, the Cleveland firefighter out-wrestled his enervated opponent to hold on to the strap.
Meanwhile, there were two firsts on the same night in Jakarta where China crowned its first MMA Champion as Xiong Jing Nan upset the odds to defeat Singapore’s Tiffany Teo to become ONE Championship’s first ever women’s straw weight champion. It was The Panda’s third straight knock-out, this time despatching ‘No Chill’ in the third. The tectonic territories of MMA audience-weighting are slowly and quietly shifting, so much so, that many in the sport are seemingly completely unaware. Last year, ONE achieved 2.6 billion Facebook video views with 6 million Facebook fans, opened up six new offices in Shanghai, Beijing, Manila, Jakarta, Bangkok and Bangalore, and are putting on twice as many events in 2018 as they did in 2017. Meanwhile out west, WME is evidently still figuring out how to recoup its $4.2 billion purchase of UFC, upping its PPV cost of last weekend’s event to $64.00 whilst ONE’s price-point remains at $10. I know which one I’d choose, especially since ‘King of Courage’ in Jakarta had Shinya Aoki, Marat Gafurov, Stefer Rahardian and featured my favourite team, Bali MMA.
Not to be outdone, EFC announced this week that Africa will get its first Women’s Strawweight Champion when Pretoria’s Psychiatric Doctor Danella Elisov takes on Italian Chiara Penco at EFC 67 on 10 March in Johannesburg. Fighting on the same card, FFM’s phenom, Boyd Allen, the continent’s most successful fighter at 66kgs and aiming for his 16th pro win will face former teammate Igeu Kabesa for the Congolese’s featherweight buckle.
In an understandable fit of pique, Miocic asked a teammate to strap-up the belt after grabbing it from Dana White, denying the UFC President his usual buckling camera-time. This was an obvious demonstration of displeasure from the most successful heavyweight in UFC history at the promotions marketing bias toward N’Gannou. It’s been a consistent market expansion strategy by the UFC to identify and over-sell fighters from markets in which they wish to expand and obviously see Ngannou as an entry-point to the African market, such is the convenient continental catch-all to many American businesses, this ‘country’ called Africa.
Similar to their foray into Mainland China last November, any attempt by the UFC to expand here would be folly considering the dominance of local players and especially in South Africa, taking fiscal logistics into account. The rand juice just ain’t worth the squeeze, Yokohama ’97 anyone?
Furthermore, would any of us line White’s pockets with our hard-earned lolly for UFC: Jozi when they continue to shun the best of the continent from Pena to Madge to du Plessis, yet the EFC are always willing to make room on cards for a bout with the best. No, me neither.
In conclusion, let me extend an invitation to Stipe Miocic to visit (South) Africa, lest he feels unappreciated as the HW GOAT of UFC and all subsequent acronyms and to his bested foe, Francis Ngannou with the opportunity to promote MMA in Africa without the accompanied capitalist WME trumpet blowing of a benevolent post-colonial philanthropist. Otherwise, I’ll see you cageside for EFC: Manhattan and ONE: Dallas in 2019. Until next week, cheers for now.