Las Vegas may be the fight capital of the world, but all eyes will be on Vancouver and Brisbane this weekend, as the World Series of Fighting and the UFC continue their push toward global expansion, promoting a pair of big-ticket, international fight cards ahead of the 2014 season.
"In 2014 we're definitely looking to go global. We're signing a deal with New Zealand and Australia," comments WSOF President Ray Sefo ahead of Saturday's WSOF 7, which is headlined by a featherweight title fight between Georgi Karakhanyan and Lance Palmer. "We've gone back and forth with Mexico and Brazil ... [and] Peru. There's a lot of things in the works right now."
While Sefo's WSOF is currently focused on their debut Canadian foray, slated for December 7 at Vancouver's PNE Agrodome (airs 9 PM EST on NBCSN) - an event that also features a middleweight semi-final between Jesse Taylor and Elvis Mutapcic - the organization has high aspirations for the coming 12 months, in which they expect to promote 10 events, including a late-spring fight card in Japan.
"I consider Japan as my second home. The fans are truly amazing. It's a huge fight nation, in terms of following kickboxing and MMA," offers Sefo. "We're looking at either the end of March or early April ... 100-percent [Yushin] Okami will be fighting on that card, most likely headlining."
No stranger to foreign markets like Canada and Japan, the UFC is in place for their fifth Australian event, UFC Fight Night 33, on December 7 (airs December 6, 9 PM EST on FOX Sports 1), which will feature heavyweights Mark Hunt and Antonio "Big Foot" Silva battling in the main event.
Having already promoted fight cards in Brazil, Sweden, Germany, the United Arab Emirates, and Ireland, the UFC is expecting upwards of 50 events in 2014, including their first show in Singapore, set for January 4, a March 8 card at London's O2 Arena, and their second trip to China's Macau Special Administrative Region.
Further fueling their current push in China, the UFC will also premiere the first Mandarin Chinese version of its tent-pole reality program The Ultimate Fighter on December 7 on Liaoning Satellite TV. This marks the organization's second venture into non-English reality programming, following two seasons of the all-Portuguese TUF: Brazil, which helped the UFC cement its hold on the South American market.
Television has been integral in the current global growth of MMA - the UFC inked a deal in June with Mexico City-based Televisa Networks to broadcast events across Latin America - but it has also propelled MMA onto the mainstream American airwaves, with the UFC currently airing on FOX Sports 1 and 2, and WSOF in the midst of a three-year deal to broadcast on NBC's 24-hour sports network NBCSN.
In 2014, however, WSOF will make an even bolder move toward mainstream America, when its events will air nationally on NBC.
"Next year we're gonna have two shows that are gonna be on the mothership of NBC," adds Sefo. "They are starting to promote WSOF on there, which reaches millions of millions of other people that probably don't know much about the sport or have never seen it."
The race to globalization is an obvious one for MMA promotions; with hundreds of fighters and fans from around the world, mixed martial arts continues to prove its universal acceptance. And now, with the UFC and WSOF set to promote their events abroad, 2014 is shaping up to be a banner year for the world's fastest growing sport.