In this editorial for the SBC Leaders magazine, Insider Sport explains how the UFC hopes to become the premier combat sports attraction in Latin America and the fan engagement potential of sports betting can help it to achieve that goal

Idolising the likes of Julio Cesar Chavez, Alexis Arguello and Marco Antonio Barrera, combat sports has always enlivened the fiery passion of Latin American sports fans and bettors alike. 

In more recent times, the combat sports landscape has evolved and MMA has aggressively infringed upon the mainstream and been embraced by global audiences. That said, until very recently, Latin American fans just simply haven’t been fueled by the Octagon and its visceral brutality, in the same way they were by the squared circle and the 10 ounce gloves. 

Change is on the horizon though, and a surge of UFC fighters from the region has captured the imagination.

The first Mexican-born UFC champion being crowned in the flyweight division in 2021 was a moment that ushered in a new era for the MMA leader. In Brandon Moreno, the promotion had the embodiment of what the Mexican audience typically adores, a courageous underdog with an immensely likeable personality.

As the MMA world has embraced sports betting through sponsorships and a whole host of creative activations, betting engagement – in the form of regional partnerships – can also be a crucial tool in unlocking the fiercely passionate fans. 

In 2021, the UFC signed a betting collaboration in Latin America, with VeChain, and whilst it was lucrative, the firm also signed a deal with for the region. Neither fuelled the growth of the sport in local markets, but in more recent times, the focus on truly engaging with fans has been elevated – with utilising specific activations with Moreno and Marlon ‘Chito’ Vera. 

The adoration Latin American fans have for their combatants is unrivalled; they are fiercely loyal and that becomes contagious for the brands that support the athletes. There is also a feeling that fans have been in the trenches with the fighters; if brands can back the athletes in an equally sincere way, they could engender a level of loyalty from fans that other collaborations can only aspire to. 

Furthermore, the UFC has heightened its focus on the Latin American audience this year. In Las Vegas on September 16th, it filled the Mexican Independence Day spot normally reserved for Canelo Alvarez, with the boxing great forced to wait two weeks to fight. 

The UFC bill on the prestigious weekend in the Mexican fighting calendar was topped by Alexa Grasso and Valentina Shevchenko, and featured a host of Mexican prospects all looking to utilise the platform to bolster their title credentials and enhance their commercial value. 

The card underlined the importance of the Mexican fanbase to the UFC, and CEO Dana White admitted he reshuffled the whole calendar to ensure he staged a show with Mexican feature bouts to Mexican Independence Day. 

It’s not just Mexico that has experienced a surge in MMA’s popularity. There’s also a wave of momentum being ridden in Peru, as fighters from the nation thrive. James Llontop has emerged as one of the top prospects from Dana White’s Contender Series 62, whilst Daniel Marcos recently extended his undefeated run with a victory over the highly-touted Davey Grant. 

These fighters bring a unique flair that can not only see them garner the backing of their home country, but also be escalated to global superstar status. It’s a blueprint that has been set by Ecuador’s Vera, who has become one of the most loved combatants in the UFC. 

Vera is set to challenge Sean O’Malley for bantamweight gold at the end of the year, and if Chito can bring another strap back to the region by dethroning one of the sport’s biggest names, it can raise the ceiling of potential for fan engagement in Latin America. 

As the UFC takes a more regionalised approach, focusing on growing stars and local stories, it undeniably raises commercial prospects for both fighters and the organisation. Brazil is very much the regional base, with its long history of MMA icons, and while Mexico represents an obvious next step, the whole continent is a goldmine of passionate untapped fans.

Betting on combat sports, whether it be niche domestic promotions or the UFC, has become part of the big fight experience for a whole demographic of fans. This though, is significantly fuelled by content; betting podcasts and preview shows are crucial in driving this engagement and maximising interest. 

The UFC has flourished when it comes to promoting live odds on the broadcast and showcasing the best in betting content by bringing in specialist tipsters who truly connect with the audience. As it looks to deepen its footprint across Latin America, this sports betting content can be vital in helping to grow the audience and career trajectories of local fighters. 

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