If you happened by Google Trends on Sunday morning and had never been exposed to mixed martial arts before, you might have been very confused. The top 10 and top 100 hottest search terms of the internet were heavily populated by things having to do with UFC 100, which was held on Saturday night in Las Vegas.
It wasn't just the internet that was buzzing after the event. Any of the major sports websites had Brock Lesnar's win over Frank Mir on the front page, newspapers and television were discussing it and some predicted that 1.5 million people ordered the event on pay-per-view. That's a big night for a sport that's been on the rise for a long time.
Was this the culmination of a groundswell of interest, or was it just a well-timed event on an otherwise sleepy sports weekend? A little of both, most likely, with UFC packing a milestone card on a date when they knew they'd have little competition. That makes you wonder what comes next, however.
Can UFC continue growing into a bigger player on the sports landscape when it costs $55 to watch their biggest fights on HD? That $55 comes with no guarantee that you'll see competitive fights or fights that last beyond the first round. That criticism that has been levied time and again against boxing as it has followed a downward spiral in visibility, and there's still a lot more championship-level boxing on regular pay cable than there are similar MMA fights at this point in time.
While that may make it tough to convince non-believers to take a shot on UFC and/or place a ceiling on its ultimate rise, it shouldn't prove to be a serious problem. The pay-per-view format makes it easy for groups of friends to chip in for a monthly party to watch the events without anyone taking on too much of the cost themselves, and it also makes it easier for potential fans to find a way to check out the big fights without spending their own cash.
That's the same kind of thing that makes social networking websites so popular. Like-minded people can share their interest in the sport, while introducing others to both the sport and the community. UFC encourages that kind of sharing by putting a list of sports bars showing the events on their website, which old modes of thinking would suggest costs you money. Perhaps, but not enough for the organization to wisely promote watching their events any way you can.
That the popularity of UFC and mixed martial arts may never rise above niche status is hardly a problem in a fractured society where few things ever get much beyond that, especially when close-knit groups of fans will probably become more avid followers because of how much they get out of being part of that group.
That makes it a pretty perfect organization for this moment in time. UFC won't ever be the NFL, but it doesn't need to do much more than maximize the support of their core fans to remain a big success going forward.