With an all-black cast for its main and co-main event, MMA is melanin dripped.
UFC 235 is the blackest mixed martial arts card ever.
Maybe not in totality but at least on the surface. For the first time ever, the UFC has an all-black main event and co-main event. On top of this feat, both fights are title bouts in the money weight divisions of MMA, light heavyweight and welterweight.
An Uncomfortable Truth: “Black on Black Crime”
When Rampage Jackson defeated Keith “The Dean of Mean” Jardine at UFC 96 in 2009 he left a verbal stain. After being interviewed post-fight, then UFC light heavyweight champ Rashad Evans entered the cage for a heated confrontation.
Rampage got the last words off before storming out:
“All I know is there’s going to be some more black on black crime!”
The statement was cringe-worthy for black audiences. There is something damaging about speaking stereotypical mistruths to power especially in sports. There is no such thing as black on black crime just as there is no white on white crime.
However, when athletes use a platform like a cage or a ring to sell tickets with negativity the damage can be enduring.
UFC 114 came and Rampage Jackson lost a unanimous decision to a more game Rashad Evans. The lead up to the fight exposed an ideological disparity between the two athletes as they were making history.
Evans concluded that Jackson was an “Uncle Tom” and called him such during the pre-fight press conference. For Evans, Jackson represented the black athlete that wanted the adoration of the majority general market fan base and caricatured himself to gain them.
Alternately, Jackson viewed the entire endeavor as a promotional opportunity to further his career and brand. Similar to Conor McGregor throwing any insult he could at Khabib Nurmagomedov to sell a grudge match fight, Evans, like Khabib was not.
Still, the fight sold out the MGM Grand with an attendance of 14,996 and a gate of $3,895,000. It sold just over a million pay-per-view buys as well.
The Future Is Now
Since then, the UFC has featured black fighters in main events frequently and capitalized on a similar rivalry between Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier. Their back-to-back pairings at UFC 182 and UFC 214 will go down in history as legendary. Although neither fight cracked a million PPV buys, it was right under the mark recording both a sold out and almost sold-out crowd.
However, we are still in an era where Tyron Woodley is considered a radical for suggesting racism exists in the MMA industry.
Still, his battle against a guy who labels himself “The Nigerian Nightmare” is a nothing short of amazing for the sport. Traditionally, wooing an audience of color was not on the agenda and quite frankly it still might not be with Dana White at the steering wheel.
Regardless, these fights were demanded by the public and the fighters themselves because it represents the best competition right now. This is the true definition of black excellence, not black placation, of which no one wants to justify poster boy level fight cards.
The UFC still isn’t being marketed to Black people. They have Black fighters but have they really done anything to market it to Black audiences. Entrepreneur 50 Cent has been collaborating with Bellator MMA with his viral “Get The Strap” campaign. Black athletes and fighters are moving towards MMA, but the sport still isn’t truly marketed to Black people. You don’t see UFC gyms in Black neighborhoods, you don’t see UFC/Bellator fighters talking to kids of color as an appearance deliverable like with the troops.
The world shouldn’t wait for MMA to market itself to Black people because Black people have become the dominant factor in the sport.