We know boxing has long been a popular sport among Hispanics, with such well known Latinos in the ring as Carlos Ortiz in the ‘60s, Hector ‘Macho” Camacho and Miguel Cotto, whose fight at Madison Square Garden remains one of the top ticket sellers of all times.
But in recent years, Mixed Martial Arts, the sport that combines boxing with grappling and kicks, has grown tremendously in popularity among Hispanics, making up 50 percent of its fan base. The sport, which has roots in Brazil in the 1920’s, was officially brought to this country in 1993 and the Ultimate Fighting Championship, a promotion company was created. MMA is a full-contact combat sport that allows the use of both striking and grappling techniques, both standing and on the ground, from a variety of other combat sports and martial arts.
Attracting a younger demographic, Hispanicmarketinfo.com calls MMA, ‘A New Passion In the Hispanic Culture’. According to Experian Simmons market research, Hispanics make up 20 percent of the sport’s key male 18-34 demographic. By those same numbers, almost 40 percent of Hispanic males 18-34 identify as avid UFC fans.
Gabriela Nunez, the communications director for ESPN International and ESPN Deportes, says MMA is more popular among Hispanics born in the United States and speaking English as a primary language, than those that are foreign-born and Spanish language-dominant.
Hispanic fans have not gone unnoticed by MMA games promoters. This past month, the UFC held an event at Foxwoods casino in Mashantucket, which targeted the Spanish-speaking market; another MMA promoter held an event at Mohegan Sun in Uncasville on the same night. Also noteworthy in the category of recognizing the growing Hispanic sports fan market – the UFC, which began with only one staffer dedicated to Hispanic marketing, has now increased that number to six and has also created UFCLatino.com to engage Latino fans.
Apparently both sports are attracting Hispanic fans according to Nunez. She said a 2013 ESPN poll indicated that 58 percent of all Hispanics are fans of boxing, adding that 22 percent of all Hispanics indicated they were serious fans of the sport, ranking themselves as an 8 on a phantom scale of 1 through 10.
She said that according to data from the Nielsen ratings, television viewership for boxing in 2013 among Hispanics increased by more than 50 percent compared to 2009. This past May, over 87,000 Hispanic households watched the bout between Bermane Stiverne and Chris Arreola, making it the most-watched boxing match on ESPN Deportes since 2010.
The interest by Hispanics in both sports will continue to grow says Windsor native, John “the Iceman” Scully, a former light heavyweight boxing title challenger and now an ESPN boxing analyst who has watched as the pipeline for more Latino involvement outside the fan base has grown. On boxing, he says, ” “I think in recent years there has been an upswing in Hispanic participation in boxing, but by the same token, when I was first boxing as an amateur in Hartford in the early 1980’s there were many Hispanic amateur and professional boxers.”
He recalls, in Connecticut, boxers like Papo Figueroa and Hector Ortiz were extremely popular fighters. There have been other notable amateurs of Puerto Rican heritage coming out of Hartford since 2000: U.S. Armed Forces Champion Orlando Cordova and 1997 National Junior Olympic Champion Sammy Vega and more recent top professionals like Angel “Nito” Vazquez and former IBO Champ Israel “Pito” Cardona.
Other fighters, like former WBA Bantamweight champion Julian Solis, were boxing out of Hartford at different points in their careers. There are also several gyms in very recent times that appear to have catered to Hispanic boxers more than anything, like “Martinez Boxing” in New Britain and “Ortiz Boxing” in Bridgeport, for example; from what I can see they both run very solid and very active programs.”
Scully, who is also a professional trainer, said that, based on his own experiences, there are currently more Latino coaches than since the early 80’s when he began. “For a long time it was a thing where most of the coaches in Connecticut were white with a few black trainers mixed in, but Hispanic trainers have definitely been making their mark in recent years.
As for MMA’s growth among Hispanics, Glastonbury resident William “Idol” Vigil, the president of Ammo Fight League (which offers mixed grappling tournaments, but is not technically an MMA organization) said the number of Latinos involved in the sport is increasing annually. Describing the Latino market as untapped, he says, “The sky is the limit with this sport making billions.”