Mixed martial arts (MMA) and Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) bouts are some of the most-watched sporting events in the United States. In 2016, five pay-per-view UFC fights drew more than a million paying viewers, beating out boxing’s pay-per-view audience, which used to be the top draw for pay-TV sports.
With the rise in popularity also comes a rising demand for news on the sport’s top stars and coverage of the fights. And while plenty of MMA-specific websites have popped up — including the extremely popular MMAFighting.com — there are still plenty of opportunities for general news outlets to cover MMA and attract the fight audience to their publications.
“[Covering MMA] makes sense from a business perspective,” says Marc Raimondi, the deputy managing editor for MMAFighting.com. “MMA coverage gets a lot of web traffic and there are advertisers who are very interested in reaching the younger male demographic that MMA caters to.”
Raimondi, who has been a sportswriter for more than a decade, got his start covering high-school and college sports in New York City before taking on MMA coverage for the New York Post.
“I saw the sport get to a level where it was becoming very popular in 2012, yet it still wasn’t getting the kind of mainstream coverage other sports were getting — sports that were actually not as popular,” Raimondi says. “The New York Post was dedicating resources to covering things like soccer and college basketball, but MMA is far more popular in the United States, especially when it comes to web traffic.
“I started an MMA blog on NYPost.com in 2012 and caught the sport on an upswing,” Raimondi continues. “The sports editor of the Post, Chris Shaw, used to joke with me when he didn’t see an MMA story near the top of the Post’s Chartbeat because the coverage was getting such good [traffic].”
While the Post is a local paper for New Yorkers, it also has a national readership base online. So while the majority of Raimondi’s sports coverage focused on local teams, with MMA, he didn’t always have to find a hometown connection to make the story relevant for readers. “I remember writing a piece about UFC fighter Court McGee’s comeback from overdosing on heroin and being clinically dead,” Raimondi recalls. “That story was big on [the website], but the editors liked it enough to put it in the paper, and McGee had no local connection at all — he’s from Utah.
“With that said, I did do plenty of coverage of the local UFC fighters,” he adds. “Even though they could not fight in New York (MMA was illegal in New York until 2015), they still had the local connection.”
To make MMA work for your newspaper or website, even if you’re working in a local market, local angles are good, but as Raimondi notes, you don’t need them to attract MMA fans. People turn to MMA coverage because they can’t get enough of the stars in the sport, from Ronda Rousey to Conor McGregor. The sport is also constantly a source of analytical news, with rules and regulations changing, and research into the sport and the injuries caused by it evolving. Plus, fans love the pre-fight trash talk and post-fight analysis.
“There is rarely a dull moment and fans are usually tuned in constantly to the goings-on,” Raimondi explains. “There was just an incident where a UFC fighter threw a boomerang at another UFC fighter during a dispute in Australia. He was charged with common assault. You can’t make some of this stuff up. It’s very much a circus atmosphere in this sport.”
The sport is also rife with stories that aren’t being covered by every other MMA beat reporter. “From a strictly journalistic standpoint, MMA is rich with incredible stories,” Raimondi says. “Look past McGregor making a fool of himself at press events and there is a world of human-interest pieces about what makes these warriors tick. What makes a person want to fight in a cage for a living? The UFC heavyweight champion is a full-time fireman in the Cleveland area. The UFC women’s bantamweight champion is an LGBT woman from Brazil. There is no shortage of fascinating angles.”
With UFC fights taking place almost every weekend, the sport allows for 24/7/365 coverage, Raimondi shares. Because of this, there are stories that aren’t being covered and that will be unique to your outlet, regardless of whether you cover MMA regularly or simply want to test out coverage to see how it does in your market.
While Raimondi’s readers at MMAFighting.com typically want longer, more in-depth stories because they’re already rabid, knowledgeable fans, not every story needs to be geared to the fanatics. General interest newspapers and websites can do shorter stories for casual fans, updating them on the latest MMA-celebrity drama, previewing an upcoming fight, or recapping and offering analysis of a recent bout.
“The first things [new MMA reporters] can do is focus on the big stars like McGregor and Rousey, because there is constant interest in those figures. Then they can branch out to those aforementioned human-interest angles,” Raimondi says. “Work hard and seek out things that no one else is doing. There is a lot of MMA coverage out there, but it isn’t like every stone has been overturned. There are many things that journalists have not tackled yet.”
Jennifer Peters is former content manager of the News Media Alliance.