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Co-evolutionary processes and positive feedbacks in the growth of the ultimate fighting championships

Simon James Ford (Centre for Technology Management, Institute for Manufacturing, University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK)

Sport, Business and Management

ISSN: 2042-678X

Article publication date: 9 March 2015




In the late 2000s, the Ultimate Fighting Championships (UFC) emerged to become the dominant mixed martial arts (MMA) organisation, bringing the sport to mainstream acceptance. The purpose of this paper is to draw on theories of co-evolution and positive feedbacks to provide insights into how the UFC has assumed this dominant position.


A single historical case study is compiled drawing on data from a number of sources, including the UFC, US State Athletic Commissions, MMA web sites and prior UFC-related academic literature.


A number of significant growth dynamics are identified, including interconnections between the increase in free-to-air events and the generation of new UFC fans and revenues; the increased financial rewards to successful fighters that allows them to improve the quality of their training and the improved quality of UFC content; and the accumulation of a critical mass of high-level fighters that increases the reputation of the UFC and the increased attraction of new fighters to the organisation.

Research limitations/implications

Further in depth studies are necessary to substantiate and quantify the interconnections identified in this paper.

Practical implications

The paper provides insights for other non-mainstream sports organisations that are attempting to grow their participation and viewership.


The emergence of new sports and sports organisations such as the UFC with global appeal and significant commercial returns is infrequent. This study contributes to the need for understanding of how new sports enter the mainstream and the role that governing organisations such as the UFC play in achieving this transition.



Ford, S.J. (2015), "Co-evolutionary processes and positive feedbacks in the growth of the ultimate fighting championships", Sport, Business and Management, Vol. 5 No. 1, pp. 31-49.



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Copyright © 2015, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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