BLOG: BBC starting to come round to MMA? The rise of UFC sensation Conor McGregor cannot be ignored

If you started watching mixed martial arts in the past year or so, the chances are that Irish sensation Conor McGregor is responsible.
Metro Radio Arena, Newcastle.
UFC: Rapid FireMetro Radio Arena, Newcastle.
UFC: Rapid Fire
Metro Radio Arena, Newcastle. UFC: Rapid Fire

Sunday’s 13-second knockout of UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo, who had gone over 10 years unbeaten, will be the first exposure some sport fans have ever had to MMA.

The left hand that put Brazilian Aldo to sleep is still reverberating around social media.

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You know it’s a big deal when the likes of pop superstar Ellie Goulding are Instragramming images of McGregor’s victory.

UFC champions have long had Hollywood appeal and celebrity status, but other than recently knocked out Ronda Rousey, none have come close to the mainstream appeal McGregor is building with his razor sharp tongue and explosive skill.

While the foremost promoter of the sport, the Ultimate Fighting Championship, has been around since the early 90s, and they first held a fight night in the UK in 2002, the mainstream media in this country have been slow to catch on.

Perfectly marketable stars have not been in short supply – England has produced bullish middleweight gatekeeper Michael Bisping, brash and articulate one-time welterweight title contender Dan Hardy and Rosi Sexton PhD, arguably the smartest human being to ever step inside an eight-sided cage to fight another human being.

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However it is only very recently that the likes of the BBC have started to warm up to mixed martial arts.

For the first time, stories have appeared on the BBC Sport home page that focus entirely on the results of big UFC fights, and not just debates on whether or not MMA is just ‘human cockfighting.’

Perhaps a memo has been sent out, confirming the corporation’s change in heart over the sport, as McGregor takes combat sport and pop culture by storm.

It’s good to see, as a fan of mixed martial arts.

My first live experience of MMA came in September 2007, and I’ve often been left bewildered at the lack of exposure and coverage given to important fights with UK relevance.

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Newspapers have warmed to it in recent years, with opinion columns, results and blogs popping up online at least.

Sadly, the BBC memo – if such a thing exists - hasn’t reached everyone.

BBC Five Live’s Adrian Chiles hosted a spot on his daytime radio show this week, with a couple of guests from the world of MMA.

Fighter, writer, referee and coach Jay Furness was joined by Rosi Sexton to give their take on the rise of MMA.

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And disappointingly, Chiles was heard to ask about the rules, or the perceived lack thereof, and wanted to know how it differed to the fake, scripted, whacky world of dramatised professional wrestling.

As a nation, I think we’re past that stage now.

We have fighters doing well, earning their crust at the sport’s top table.

The UFC have held enough major events on these shores, and although it’s not in its finest hour currently, there is a UK MMA scene with local and regional shows.

You can’t ignore McGregor’s rise to prominence and the number of people he’s pulling towards this sport.

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And behind him could march a new generation of fighters who can sell a fight with their personality, and win a fight with their skillset.

The biggest days of MMA are ahead of us.

So the time for debating its ‘brutality’ or its worthiness to be included in sports bulletins has passed.

It’s time to use column inches to discuss results and performances.

The BBC could do much, much worse than getting the likes of Furness or Sexton on the pay roll and letting them give readers, listeners and viewers an expert insight into the sport, and not just a patronising cameo appearance alongside Mr Chiles.

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