Any or all are possible, of course, but more likely, as the demographics and interests of Americans change, some other sport will break into the club and possibly eclipse the group. Need proof? You know what the most popular sports in America were back in 1850? Golf and tennis. Then baseball took the mantle before boxing seized the throne, then baseball see-sawed back to the top before football swung into the lead, where it stays firmly entrenched.
To the horror of many middle-aged sports columnists and editors everywhere, the next step in the American sports evolution might well be mixed martial arts. And NBC is the next major media convert, signing a deal to air Strikeforce on late-night Saturdays. CBS previously announced a deal with EliteXC, but NBC will be the first network to broadcast MMA when its first show goes national on April 13.
The significance of the deal should not be discounted. Wars begin with a single shot. Movements begin with a simple idea. And change begins with one action.
Ten years ago, this development could not be foreseen. MMA was dead, or at least dying. Characterized as "human cockfighting" by Sen. John McCain in a comment that still occasionally haunts the sport today, there were no sponsors, no TV deals, seemingly no future.
What followed was nothing more than a resurrection. Zuffa bought the UFC, embraced sanctioning and regulation, got a TV deal, and the rocket blasted off into orbit.
But what's behind its rise? Critics say it’s a simple bloodlust, but they are making the simpleton mistake of judging a book by its cover. Yes, it is violent, but so is football. There is also subtext beneath, strategy and technique that takes years to learn as a fighter and appreciate as a fan.
Now the question is: Is there room for more than just the UFC? There is compelling evidence to answer yes. In the boxing world (the most similar business model), fans care little about the sanctioning bodies involved. Events draw on the names of the athletes. So as long as organizations can successfully build superstars, they have a chance to grow.
Although no group has seized the spotlight the way the UFC has, others have managed to steal the limelight here and there. Strikeforce for a time held the record for U.S. attendance at an MMA event when they ran the first-ever sanctioned show in California in March 2006. EliteXC signed internet phenom Kimbo Slice.
Now, the groups will have a chance to get their product out to the masses. Airing Strikeforce will give millions of people exposure to fighters they might not have ever had the opportunity to see.
Frank Shamrock is considered a pioneer in the MMA world. At 35, he's been competing in the sport for almost 14 years, and holds wins over notables like Bas Rutten, Enson Inoue and Tito Ortiz. He was the UFC's first-ever light-heavyweight champion and defended his title four times before leaving the company.
Cung Le was a champion kickboxer who moved into the MMA realm and has gone unbeaten in his first five fights. He has a huge following in California, a kickboxing hotbed, and hopes to take his fame national.
Gilbert Melendez is the Strikeforce lightweight champion who many consider among the best lightweights in the world. He's well-rounded with an aggressive, crowd-pleasing style.
These are all fighters deserving of the attention a national audience brings. It increases their exposure and sponsorship opportunities. And for the audience, it gives them an alternative.
Even UFC President Dana White has said that these organizations serve a purpose in giving young fighters a chance to gain experience and build names for themselves. But with national exposure, now there is a chance for the organizations to do the same.
For a while now, UFC has had the reputation as the biggest MMA organization in the world, and that is likely not going away anytime soon. It might take five years, it make take 50, but some day it will be challenged. It's just a part of evolution.
Similarly, it may well seem that football owns an iron grip on the American sports fan, but history knows better.
Video: MMA from NBC Sports
Cavalcante didn't want fight to stop
After losing his fight with Justin Gaethje due to a deep cut above his left eye, Gesias Cavalcante talks about the decision to stop the fight. Cavalcante says he was ready to continue the fight before the doctors made the call.
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