UFC McDojos - An Article by Peter Lampasona
From the NY MMA Examiner Column
The largest MMA promotion in the world, the UFC, opened the doors to the first of its new UFC Gym chain in Concord, California, last week. While the UFC Gym has the familiar black chain link octagon as its most prominent feature, representatives from the UFC claim that the new chain is not in the market of training mixed martial artists.
According to an article by The San Francisco Chronicle, UFC Chairman and CEO Lorenzo Fertitta detailed a core demographic that the gym will be targeting.
"We're not looking to train or create fighters,” Feritta told the Chronicle. “We're looking to create a fun family environment.”
That’s correct. The UFC brand, which in recent history always attached itself to the tag line “as real as it gets” is lending its name and reputation to a family friendly gym more philosophically in line with Gold’s or LA Fitness.
Apart from the standard weights and cardio machines and in keeping with the chain’s martial arts theme, the UFC Gym offers classes in Jiu Jitsu, cardio kickboxing, and karate for children and adults. The gym’s advertising also follows the message of combining martial arts with a family friendly environment, exemplified by the brief online add, below.
UFC Gym holiday offer:
Probably the most telling image in the above advertisement is that there is a man in the background who is hitting mitts with his hands at chest level and receives no smack in the face as a gentle reminder that he should get used to keeping them higher. Though, in Fertitta’s own words the UFC Gym does not want to create fighters, the three letters plastered over every glove, pad, and t-shirt send a different message.
For the majority of fans, the UFC is synonymous with American MMA. It is still, in spite of recent surges in the popularity of competing promotions, the largest MMA brand in the world. Any google search from a first time student interested in learning MMA will likely begin with the letters UFC.
Ultimately, the fear that comes with the UFC name being attached to a commercial gym with some kid-friendly martial arts classes is the McDojoization of MMA. The term “McDojo” was coined in the mid 90’s and refers to when a chain business model for a combat sports gym may thrive and force smaller, independent gyms out of business, even if those independent gyms provide cheaper service that is more in line with the goals of the student.
Concerns about how the UFC chain might detract from the martial arts community have been around since the venture was first announced last year. In an interview with New York Combat Sambo head coach and ASA president Stephen Koepfer in early July, Koepfer called the chain “cancerous” to fairly priced gym owners who are in the business of training fighters.
Those wanting to get their first taste of the growing sport will likely see the UFC brand without acknowledging Fertitta’s half hearted disclaimer that the new gyms have no intention of training fighters. Meanwhile, the UFC gets richer, small gyms have a more difficult time finding new students, and prospective students who might enjoy the energy and urgency of getting punched in the face will instead pay extra for Muay Thai classes where they punch mitts with no one telling them to keep their hands up.