The UFC held its first event in the early 1990s, and it was brutal. The rules were simple: anything goes, with the exception of eye gouging and biting. The purpose of the event would be to find out which was the best fighting style. It was all highly controversial, and many states banned the UFC.
In 2001, Zuffa LLC and Dana White restructured MMA to make it a more sanctioned, more organized and more controlled combat sport. Today, the UFC holds more than 40 events per year, UFC programming goes out to more than 165 countries and territories, and several of its fighters have become household names. Below is a look at how UFC fighters have become celebrities, with a special focus on “The Notorious” Conor McGregor, plus a look at some major upcoming fights.
Everyone loves a fighter
The UFC owes some of its fame to the podcaster and MMA commentator Joe Rogan, who introduced the sport to the public through his popular podcast. Rogan has interviewed professional fighters such as “Rowdy” Ronda Rousey and Jon “Bones” Jones, and by offering free tickets to events, has achieved celebrity endorsements for the UFC. This encouraged other celebrities, including YouTuber Jake Paul, to attend UFC events.
Another major factor has been the business smarts of the organization’s president, Dana White. During his presidency, White has increased the valuation of the UFC to around $4 billion. One masterstroke was asking Rogan to commentate, who agreed to do so in return for access to the event and for free tickets for friends. Later, White would hire Rogan full time.
Soon UFC fighters would go on to become celebrities. “The Natural” Randy Couture would star in The Expendables movies. Ronda Rousey would also appear on the silver screen, both in “The Expendables 3” and in “The Fast and the Furious 7”.
The rise of Conor McGregor
But there’s one man who epitomizes the UFC fighter as a celebrity: Conor McGregor. Once a full-time plumber, the Dubliner would later hold two championships belts at the same time in MMA. While in Dublin himself to receive an award at Trinity College, in 2013, Dana White kept hearing McGregor’s name come up in conversation. He later went back to Dublin to hold a meeting with McGregor and realized that if McGregor could hold his own well enough in the cage, he’d go on to become a star.
White wasn’t wrong. In April 2013, “The Notorious” made an impressive debut in the Octagon. In just 67 seconds of the first round, he delivered a technical knockout to Marcus Brimage.
McGregor has made serious money, as well as become renowned for his entertaining trash talk. He once took on Floyd “Money” Mayweather Junior in a boxing match that is rumored to have earned him around $100 million. The fighter has also launched his own brand of Whisky, Proper No. Twelve, a stake in which he sold for up to $600 million.
Big fights to look forward to in the UFC
While McGregor is enjoying riches and celebrity status, other athletes in the UFC will be training hard for UFC 275. They’ll clash in Singapore.
Glover Teixeira vs Jiri Prochazka
In the men’s light heavyweight division, champion Glover Teixeira will defend his title against the hard-hitting Czech Jiri Prochazka. It’s the champ’s first title defense since he submitted Jan Blachowiz in October 2021, in the second round at UFC 267.
It’s going to be an interesting matchup. Both men are superb strikers and have explosive, knockout power. Note that despite Teixeira’s claiming a lot of his victories by knockout, he also has a strong submission game and is durable.
However, anyone checking out the UFC odds will find that sportsbooks are favoring the challenger at -180, compared to Teixera’s +155. This could possibly be because the champ’s age may work against him. He’s set to turn 43 this year. Meanwhile, the Czech has had just two fights in the Octagon. Both Volkan Oezdemir and Dominick Reyes were title contenders, and he disposed of both of them in brutal fashion.
Valentina Shevchenko vs Taila Santos
Out in the women’s flyweight division, Valentina Shevchenko will be looking to defend her title against number five Taila Santos. Shevchenko is on a seven-fight winning streak, and Santos will be trying to put an end to that and take her title from her. The win would make it five consecutive wins for Santos.
Sportsbooks, however, don’t see Santos pulling off that fifth straight victory. They make Shevchenko a heavy favorite at -600, compared to Santos’s +400.
Stepping inside the Octagon has allowed Conor McGregor and several other fighters to achieve celebrity status. Their bravery inside the cage has earned the respect of millions and now they can enjoy some of the trappings fighting for a living has brought them.