Football remains the most popular sport in the CEE region. Hockey comes close second in several countries, including the Czech Republic and Slovakia. Volleyball and basketball have been popular in Poland. But there is yet another sport emerging as a driving force in Central and Eastern Europe: Mixed Martial Arts.
Until a few years ago, it would be unthinkable to view MMA as a mainstream phenomenon. But the sport has seen rapid growth and now draws a ton of attention. While measuring popularity is always complicated, one of the better indicators may be the overall wagers at sportsbooks. According to a prominent Czech sports-betting site BetArena.cz, the major UFC cards and local Oktagon MMA fights often exceed football competitions in handle. A similar pattern has been observed in Poland, where KSW dominates the local MMA scene.
Combat sports have also seen a steep increase in media attention. Many new MMA outlets have emerged to capitalize on the boom. Last year, Fightlive.cz reached 100,000 daily unique views in its first year running to become one of the main MMA websites in the Czech Republic. The public interest in MMA exceeds basketball or tennis by order of magnitude.
What sparked the MMA boom?
MMA organizers and fighters seem to have adapted to the new media platforms better than traditional sports. The rise of social media, pay-per-view events and so on helped MMA increase its marketing potential. Addressing both classic sports audience as well as newcomers catalyzed the dynamic rise of the sport. Today, MMA events sell out big arenas in the Czech Republic and Poland, a privilege previously exclusive to big football and hockey games.
Along with the growing fanbase, the two respective countries have recently celebrated stellar achievements of their athletes. The fighter pool becomes ever more competitive in Poland and the Czech Republic, and the top mixed martial artists now thrive on the global stage.
Poland boasts the UFC Light Heavyweight champion Jan Blachowicz, who won the belt in September 2020 and successfully defended the title in March. Hot on Blachowicz’s heels is Jiří Procházka, Czech #2 contender in the world. Procházka has made for his name in Japan’s Rizin organization, where he won the championship in 2019. Last year, Procházka entered the UFC and quickly became a fixture, winning both of his two fights so far.
While Blachowicz and Procházka are undoubtedly the biggest local MMA heroes, they are not the only regional fighters at the top level. The UFC has previously crowned a Polish female champion – Joanna Jędrzejczyk, who continues to thrive in the strawweight division. Meanwhile, the Czech fans are hoping to see the likes of David Dvořák and Makhmud Muradov succeed among the UFC ranks.
And both domestic scenes have now been buzzing for years as well: MMA has firmly established itself as a mainstream sport in the CEE region. The foreseeable future looks very promising for MMA in Central and Eastern Europe, with the live event industry expected to bounce back later this year.