In a sport that has it’s fair share of stars, Mixed Martial Arts is no different than the stick and ball sports. Many of it’s money fighters over the years have played on their homeland as a source to garner, build and catapult themselves into the mainstream.
Countless examples can be discussed that point directly to a fighter’s home country as the synthesis of their fame. From the very first UFC in November of 1993, it was Royce Gracie who put Brazil on the map, a country that once just best known for the dominance in soccer.
In fact, one look at how the FIFA World Cup plays out, and you can easily see how proud many people are of their heritage. In my neck of the woods, we are all basically Canadians, that is, with the exception of every four years, many dawn the colors and jerseys of their parents or grandparents.
It is something I have noticed translates just as easy into the world of Mixed Martial Arts. It was something Tito Ortiz embraced during many of his walks to the cage, proudly waving the Mexican flag alongside the American one. And when he first did that, he garnered his fair share of support from the Latino community.
From my own country, there was a young and green Georges St-Pierre, who didn’t even need to embrace the Canadian Flag for it was placed around his shoulders. ‘Captain Canada’ caught lightning in a bottle when he, and a nation of proud Canucks, joined him on his journey to championship glory and one of the sport’s biggest pay per view draws.
His next opponent, middleweight champion Michael Bisping, has a massive following in England. So much so, his fans would travel around the world to support their favorite MMA son, as he battled the hostile Americans, Brazilians, Canadians and more.
Then there’s Conor McGregor, who put Ireland on the MMA map, bringing with him a passionate fan base that feels like it cannot be rivaled in Mixed Martial Arts today.
While all of the aforementioned fighters were able to showcase their dominance inside the octagon, they never solely relied on their fighting to do the talking for them. They did more. They embraced their homeland, who in turn, embraced them, further growing their stock value and making them the stars they are today.
It is a lesson many of today’s fighters could (and should) learn from with some already having embarked on the journey. Case and point: Kamaru ‘The Nigerian Nightmare’ Usman.
While the welterweight fighter is quickly going from prospect to contender, he has taken it upon himself to dawn the traditional garments his country is known for. One look at some his post-fight interviews and instagram page and you will see a man who is proud to call Nigeria is homeland.
Just recently, he attended the ‘African Muzik Magazine Awards’, “the sole award ceremony in the Diaspora that caters to all African music. The event was held in Dallas, TX, and where Usman told me he was pleasantly surprised (and somewhat shocked) to see how many people actually knew who he was and who support him from the homeland.
No doubt a proud moment for Kamaru, who will now likely try and grow this fan base, tapping into a world he perhaps never thought possible. Heck, he even told me there are some big music stars DM’ing him. Artists he thought he would only hear and see on his iPhone. Not so much anymore.
He is but one of a roster of nearly 500 UFC fighters, who could tap into the patriotism well and draw it some homeland support. There’s Khabib Nurmagomedov running with the Dakestani / Russian market, as has Alexander Gustafsson with Sweden. Usman’s friend, Francis Ngannou can definitely represent France and his Cameroon heritage.
The beauty of mixed martial arts is that it resonates perfectly with one of UFC President Dana White’s most famous analogies, where he explained you can’t take the NFL product globally. It would be hard to sell hockey in countries with warm/hot weather, but no matter where people are from, they understand ‘fighting’.
It may not be for everyone, but people get it, so fighters should embrace their homeland. They can rest assured, that there is a very good chance, their homeland will be more than happy to support one of their own, every time he/she goes to battle in the name of the flag draped around their shoulders.