The sport of mixed martial arts is well on its way to becoming a global phenomenon because as president Dana White always says, fighting is in the human DNA and everybody understands the rules.
Not everybody understands the intricacies of MMA rules, of course, but the basic act of a one-on-one showdown in the cage is easy to understand at its base level, and quite entertaining of course.
But what countries enjoy MMA with the most passion, bring the best fanbases and have the best overall culture for the sport? As someone who has been a longtime MMA fan since the days when PRIDE in Japan and the UFC were going at it for viewers' eyeballs and arguments raged about which organization was better, I've got a few strong opinions on the subject.
Here are my top five countries for MMA in general with a strong emphasis on fan support:
5. Australia - It's hard to pick this nation over England but their fans are well known for their passion and MMA-loving culture. Russia and other nations are also up there but Australia has just enough juice to make the list. Because this is mostly a subjective list, I'll take Australia for the "it" factor, as I believe it'd be one of the best places in the world to watch a big-time fight.
UFC 127 in Sydney for example sold out in just 22 minutes, a feat that can't be ignored. England hasn't gotten the caliber of events they've deserved but their fans don't seem quite as appreciative as Australia's for some reason. While England has better MMA fighters, Australia has a slight edge due to fan passion.
4. Canada - The UFC loves Canada so much that they're bringing three events to the country in 2012 and three again in 2013 and 2014 according to Sports Illustrated. The fans are about as boisterous as they come and are also the right mix between knowledgeable and rowdy, creating a great atmosphere. Fighter-wise and history-wise, they're solid although not spectacular. Georges St-Pierre's presence means a lot to their profile overall as well.
3. Japan - The birthplace of PRIDE, Japan scores huge points for its fight culture, which is as respectful as it gets, yet one that still values a good heavy-handed throwdown, or a technical grappling match for that matter. The fighters are solid for the most part, but it's the country's ability to embrace the spectacle of MMA through promotions like PRIDE and DREAM that gives it a big edge here, as well as its long-running love affair with martial arts in general.
2. Brazil - The South American country seems to easily be the home of the best fighters per capita, it's the birthplace of Brazilian jiu-jitsu and the famous Gracie clan that essentially made the UFC into a major promotion and began to make MMA popular, and it's becoming more and more popular as a modern UFC destination as well. The fight culture is starkly different from Japan here, with fans chanting the English equivalent of "you'll die" in an aggressive, constant manner to non-Brazilians at events, but it just shows how serious this country takes their MMA and their fights in general. It's a different vibe but undeniably an entertaining one.
1. United States - The UFC is king whether the old time PRIDE fans like it or not (and I have always been one of them), and that's the big reason why the U.S. is number one. This is the organization that brought the best of the best together in one organization and helped to put on dream fights many never thought they'd see after they brought over most of PRIDE's best fighters. The best is still yet to come in MMA as the talent pool grows and the UFC will be at the forefront of taking the sport to the next level. U.S. fans get a lot of flack for their perceived lack of knowledge and lust for knockouts over technical fights at times, but they remain the lifeblood of the sport by backing it with their hard-earned dollars.
Fans in the U.S. vary across the board but as long as the cards are solid, they'll come out, and keep purchasing the pay-per-views and merchandise that make MMA the fastest-growing sport in the world.
Nick Meyer is a longtime MMA fan from Metro Detroit.
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