The ancient and modern-day gladiators
The Colosseum: a place of gladiator battles that took part in the time of the Roman Empire. People from all social backgrounds were insanely excited and interested in watching bloody and spectacular fights. It attracted the attention of a sizable chunk of the population, and it was one of their favorite pastimes. And it was very lucrative. Spectators actively discussed the fights, chose their gladiator, placed bets among themselves, and argued who would win the next combat.
Since that time, civilization has made a giant leap forward. People have many more opportunities for self-expression and clout. There are so many new types of sport and activities worldwide, each with its own idols. And, thankfully, the sports are not as bloody.
Still, there has always been a passion for brutal fights, spectacular victories, and brawls with entirely unpredictable outcomes. So now we have various fighting sports. In particular, mixed martial arts (MMA) has many similarities to its gladiator predecessors. There’s an octagonal cage with two well-trained athletes with a unique skillset, overseen by vast crowds of people sitting in stadiums or watching from their screens. It’s all-too-similar to the gladiator fights of ancient times. Still, it’s a highly regulated sport and a large industry. MMA has judges, athletic commissions, and many fans worldwide. Today, one of the prominent leaders in this sport is the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), a brand recognized around the globe.
The UFC was acquired in 2001 for $2 million by the Fertitta brothers, who invited Dana White, now considered one of the best promoters. Back then, no one could not predict that, in just 15 years, White and his team would be able to lead the organization to worldwide recognition. This resulted in the opportunity for the Fertitta brothers to sell the UFC for $4 billion. Not bad. Eventually, UFC was acquired by Endeavor (NYSE: EDR).
The Romans weren’t shy about investing in their fighting sports. Considerable time, money, and energy went into building the Colosseum, which could have 87,000 spectators with tiered seating all the way around.
UFC as a company recognized how lucrative their modern-day ‘Colosseum’ is and went on to develop a pay-per-view model while also landing impressive sponsorships – with DraftKings (NYSE: DKNG), Harley-Davidson (NYSE: HOG), and Monster Energy (NYSE: MNST), to name a few.
However, just like the ancient gladiator world, the UFC needed its own stars and idols. During his reign in the UFC, White raised many stars: from the incredibly explosive and ruthless Vitor Belfort, the insanely technical Georges St-Pierre, and the youngest, most talented, and dominant champion, Jon Jones. There were many stars, but the organization had its peak growth when White saw a prospective and bright future in an Irishman – Conor McGregor. White invested funds in the charismatic, eccentric young fighter, and it paid off at the end of the day. The Irishman brought the highest pay-per-view revenue to the organization.
On the other hand, there are difficulties that the UFC faces with this kind of model. Firstly, suppose prized fighters in the main tournaments are injured and substituted. In that case, there is a decline in viewers, which hurts the pay-per-view model.
Secondly, UFC gets some backlash for the imbalanced retainers paid to the fighters. For instance, in the last fight between Tyson Fury vs. Deontay Wilder, Fury got paid around $30 million, not including the percentage share from pay-per-view. While at the UFC 270 tournament in the primary fight where Francis Ngannou defeated Ciryl Gane, the Cameroon fighter earned $600,000. In fact, all participants of the UFC 270 tournament got a purse of $1.8 million, which is 16 times less than Fury put in his pocket. With that being said, the ancient world was not much different when it came to significant differences in earnings between fighters. In fact, the highest-paid gladiator of all time got paid the equivalent of tens of millions of dollars.
So, the UFC octagon is our modern-day Colosseum and is considered the ‘Arena of Death’. Watching from the comfort of our homes, we can witness these warriors fight for money and fame, and the audience gets pleasure, paying for that entertainment. Maybe we haven’t leaped that far forward.