According to a June 21 report from Yahoo! Sports, UFC President Dana White says the UFC wouldn't hold an event in Mexico without heavyweight superstar Cain Velasquez. White is putting a lot of pressure on Velasquez to drive interest in the sport of MMA in Mexico, a country that has a rich boxing tradition.
Since boxing is a key element of MMA, the UFC is hoping fight fans in Mexico will have an easy time getting into the sport. So far, Mexico has been an under-served market when it comes to MMA. Soccer and boxing reign supreme in Mexico, but is change on the horizon?
As most UFC fans know by now, the promotion booked Velasquez to fight Fabricio Werdum in Mexico City, for the main event of UFC 180. Even though the UFC has been around for 20 years, they have never held an event in Mexico. The reason is mainly that the sport is not very popular there. That could change with the 31-year-old Velasquez leading the way, as he's a humble champion who will likely be the face of the UFC's heavyweight division for years to come.
In anticipation of UFC 180, the promotion is working hard to sign high-level talent from Mexico. Just this week, the UFC secured the services of fast-rising phenom Augusto Montano. However, it's clear the UFC is putting all its eggs in Velasquez's basket, just as it did with Ronda Rousey in the women's bantamweight division.
Obviously Velasquez is a great talent. He's riding a four-fight win streak, including victories over Junior dos Santos and Antonio Silva. He has beaten a who's who of UFC heavyweight legends, including Brock Lesnar and Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira. Now the only question is if he can lead the UFC to success in Mexico.
There's no doubt Velasquez is a talented superstar, but the issue is that he's a Mexican-American who was born in California and raised in Arizona. He also to high school and college in Arizona, and currently resides in California. Will fight fans in Mexico fully get behind him even though he was born and raised in the United States? That remains to be seen, but the early indications are good for the UFC.
The UFC 180 pre-fight presser was the biggest press conference in Telavisa history. Fight fans in Mexico are clearly starting to care about Velasquez, but will that translate to interest in MMA as a whole? Time will tell the answer to that. The only way for the UFC to grow in Mexico is to heavily promote UFC 180, and then keep coming back every year. There's no guarantee it will work, but that's what the UFC needs to do.