Thomas Gerbasi, UFC - When you consider the love affair Mexico has with combat sports, as well as the storied warriors who have hailed from that nation, it should have been no surprise that the debut airing of the UFC in Mexico last Saturday night was a huge success. And it was a hit, as UFC 100’s broadcast on channel 9 garnered a peak IPOBE rating of 13.30, which surpassed that of a boxing event and soccer match also airing at the same time.
When you consider the love affair Mexico has with combat sports, as well as the storied warriors who have hailed from that nation, it should have been no surprise that the debut airing of the UFC in Mexico last Saturday night was a huge success. And it was a hit, as UFC 100’s broadcast on channel 9 garnered a peak IPOBE rating of 13.30, which surpassed that of a boxing event and soccer match also airing at the same time.
“We definitely knew that the Mexican people were hungry for the UFC,” said Lorenzo Fertitta, Chairman and CEO of UFC. “We paved the way with the WEC, which was getting a great response in Mexico, and we knew that once you put this program on free TV, it would work.”
The UFC 100 broadcast was the first of the deal between the UFC and Grupo Televisa, the world’s largest Spanish-speaking media company. It was a partnership long in the making, and one celebrated on July 8th in Mexico City with a press conference attended by two of the UFC’s finest, lightweight prospect Efrain Escudero and heavyweight contender Cain Velasquez, both of whom proudly celebrate their Mexican roots.
“That press conference was awesome,” said Escudero, a native of San Luis Rio Colorado. “It was something I had never experienced before, and the Mexican people treated me great. I really enjoyed it.”
“It was great,” agreed Velasquez. “Everyone who was there greeted us with open arms and they all told us that they enjoyed the UFC and that they were super excited that it’s going to be shown over there now. And for me, it was an honor being in Mexico City. I’ve dreamed of going down there since I was little, and it was an honor to go there and represent my family and UFC.”
With all the major media players in the city present, the UFC team met the press and outlined its hopes for the future of the organization in Mexico. Escudero and Velasquez were particularly popular with the media, as both epitomize what fans expect from a Mexican fighter. Basically, you’re a gentleman outside the ring and a never say die warrior in it. The two UFC standouts are fine with that categorization.
“I’m a very nice person, but I love taking care of business,” said Escudero, winner of season eight of The Ultimate Fighter. “There’s a time for fun and there’s a time where you say, ‘hey, it’s time to go after somebody.’”
“I think it’s in our blood,” said Velasquez, who is coming off a stirring win over Cheick Kongo at UFC 99 in June. “The things that are popular in Mexico are boxing, wrestling, and bullfighting. We love a good fight and to see someone leave it all out there. That’s our style. We go out and fight with all our hearts. If the fans know you were out there and pretty much gave it all and didn’t give up, they’re behind you a hundred percent; if you go out there and you gave up, they’ll disown you. You cannot do that.”
Velasquez didn’t give up against Kongo, even after getting rocked and dropped, and he roared back to take the biggest win of his career. It’s the type of victory that could inspire a host of young fans in Mexico, some of whom may even start taking up mixed martial arts because of it. That’s something Velasquez didn’t have while growing up in California.
“I was always a big kid, so growing up there was never anyone big who was Mexican that I could look up to, and I’d be honored if I could be that person for someone,” said Velasquez, who recalls Saturday fight nights being a big event around his house, especially if a Mexican fighter was involved.
“To see a Mexican who was on top of his sport was something awesome to watch,” said the unbeaten heavyweight. “Growing up, we didn’t really have anyone up in the media. There was no one in the movies or music, so we watched the guys who were in sports, and that was pretty much in boxing.”
Escudero, who came to the States at the age of eight, agrees.
“A lot of people in my family were boxing fans,” he said. “My dad was a boxer when he was young, and though most of my brothers weren’t really into sports, my brother Francisco was into boxing and wrestling, and he’s the one who got me started. So usually when there was a fight, no matter who it is representing Mexico, everybody’s stuck to the TV.”
Now fans can get stuck to the TV watching mixed martial arts’ best – and on free TV no less. This Saturday night at 11pm local time, the UFC action continues when Mexico’s flagship station, Channel 5, airs “Road to UFC 101”, which features the four headliners of the August 8th UFC event – BJ Penn, Kenny Florian, Forrest Griffin, and Anderson Silva. It’s the beginning of what should be a long relationship between one of fighting’s hallowed nations and the world’s premier combat sport. Now all that needs to take place is a UFC event in Mexico.
“That would be my dream come true,” said Escudero.