It was a secret all fight week in late September: why had the UFC closed its doors to fans and media? Why were they hosting a card not just without an audience, but with seemingly no one in attendance beyond necessary staff? Rumors ran wild, but the truth couldn’t be contained for long. The world’s largest MMA promotion became a private function for one of the world’s richest men, Mark Zuckerberg, so that he and his wife could enjoy the event without rubbing elbows with the hoi polloi.
The move sparked some serious blowback from fans, and even a few former fighters, who saw the decision to close the Apex to the public as something of a slap in the face from both from the promotion and from billionaire Facebook CEO. That doesn’t mean everyone was against it, however. Former UFC champion, and current commentary team member, Michael Bisping talked about Zuckerberg’s UFC attendance on a recent episode of his podcast. It seems as far as he’s concerned, it was all good news.
“They’re all good points,” Bisping said, in response to UFC light heavyweight Anthony Smith’s feeling that Zuckerberg’s fame could bring the UFC to new audiences (transcript via MMA Fighting). “And this isn’t meant as an insult to him—and it sounds like a meathead comment—but [more fans can get into the sport because of] someone that’s as nerdy as him. He’s a tech genius. You’ve seen him, and he can be described as, quote unquote, a bit of a nerd. But to see a guy like him who does have that influence, who does that wealth, who does have that power, and I don’t know what to think about Mark Zuckerberg, he’s a f-cking nerd, let’s be honest, but he’s awesome because he’s there and he’s watching the UFC.
“I believe this will open up, potentially, another realm of people because MMA is hugely and wildly popular, but there’s still skeptics, there’s critics, and there’s still people that won’t give it a shot. But seeing someone that’s clearly wildly intelligent as he is, to be an admirer of the sport, and his wife is there enjoying it, it’s only going to bring in more fans.”
Just how much impact Zuckerberg might actually have on UFC viewership is hard to measure. A cursory glance at stories indexed by Google around the fight card show little reach beyond the standard MMA outlets that would have been covering the Fight Night card in the first place. And given the level of secrecy around the whole thing in the lead-up, it seems likely that most people would only know he was in attendance if they were already watching the event live.
At the very least, however, the UFC has clearly captured the interest of one of the world’s most powerful men. Who knows what that may lead to down the line?
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