Tasser: UFC gaining popularity

By Donnie Tasser

With a knee to the head, it was over.

Last week at UFC 128 — a mixed martial arts event held… With a knee to the head, it was over.

Last week at UFC 128 — a mixed martial arts event held by the Ultimate Fighting Championship — Jon “Bones” Jones laid a savage beating on Brazilian Maurício “Shogun” Rua, the highly touted light-heavyweight champion of the UFC, to become the youngest title belt-holder in the organization’s history at 23.

Jones is the most hyped fighter to come into the UFC since B.J. Penn almost 10 years ago, and he has certainly lived up to the hype, registering the technical knockout at 2:37 of the third round.

Rua was dominated in his first title defense. Jones opened up fast, controlled the pace and landed 87 strikes to Rua’s 13, according to CompuStrike, a source for mixed martial arts statistics.

In the third round, all Jones needed was a body shot followed by a knee to the head to fell the champion before the referee quickly ordered the stoppage.

Jones’s first title defense will come against close friend and training partner, former light-heavyweight champion Rashad Evans.

Whether you like the UFC or think that it is a violent, testosterone-fueled bloodbath, you cannot argue with its popularity.

In 2006, the UFC broke the pay-per-view record, generating almost $223 million in revenue, and the figure continues to climb. Mixed martial arts is the fastest growing sport in the country, and it gives athletes in smaller participation sports — like wrestling and judo — a professional outlet that they never had before.

The UFC is filled with up-and-coming young fighters like Jones and Phil “Mr. Wonderful” Davis, a former Penn State wrestling national champion who defeated another highly ranked fighter, Antônio Rogério Nogueira, by unanimous decision at UFC Fight Night 24 last month.

Davis provides his fair share of entertainment beyond the physical fight. When fighters jaw outside the ring, it gives the fights more fuel — and a WWE-esque aura in the Octagon, albeit without the trashy acting and cheesy lines.

The veteran superstars, like current welterweight (heavier than lightweight but lighter than middleweight) title holder Georges St-Pierre and current middleweight title holder and pound-for-pound champ Anderson Silva are simply pain machines who do little talking outside the ring.

The unexpected personality of fighters, shown when St-Pierre and Josh Koscheck fought at UFC 124, will only add to the popularity of the sport.

Kosheck, a Waynesburg, Pa., native, did his best Chad Ochocinco impersonation and ran his mouth from the second he won a chance at St-Pierre’s belt.

He trashed everything from the fighter himself to his hometown team, the Montreal Canadiens. Even though St-Pierre, clearly a better fighter, laid waste to Koscheck in the Octagon, the constant jawing of Koscheck led to a healthy gate receipt and an all-time UFC live attendance record.

With the acquisition of the World Extreme Cagefighting — a smaller mixed martial arts organization — and the promise of more fights on cable, it does not look like the UFC’s popularity will waver, especially if the sport keeps churning out young superstars like “Bones” and “Mr. Wonderful.”