Issue 201

December 2022

Australia lives a day ahead of the world to watch MMA in its distinctive way. Fighters Only’s resident Australian Ray Klerck introduces us to MMA fandom, Aussie-style.

Don’t worry about today. It’s already tomorrow in Australia. If you’re an Australian MMA fan, you’re always a day ahead, a time zone nuance that’s created a unique way to watch UFC events. 

How much do Australians like their MMA? About 57,127, to be precise. That was the UFC attendance at Marvel Stadium for UFC 243: Whittaker vs. Adesanya in Melbourne — more than any UFC event ever. While Australians aren’t always lucky enough to have UFC bouts during convenient time zones, this hasn’t dampened the nation’s enthusiasm for MMA. They threw their support behind heavy-hitting Mark Hunt, and this nation of just 23 million has produced champions like Robert Whittaker and Alexander Volkanovski. 

How can such a small nation do well? Sport is the steel in the spine of Australian culture. Being able to support homegrown Australian fighters has carved a niche in the hearts of this nation. Here’s why Australian Sunday sessions are possibly the world’s most original perspective on viewing MMA. 

Hitting the sporting sabbath

In Australia, Sundays and sports go together like “G’day,” and “mate,” largely thanks to rugby union, rugby league and Australian Rules football. The beating pulse of every Australian community is the footy ground where local clubs do battle on Sundays. Cold lagers flow, sunscreen slaps, and blonde mullets bristle in the sea breeze. Sundays are Australia’s sporting sabbath, so UFC events are a blessing for this hallowed time slot. 

Most Las Vegas events begin at roughly 11am Eastern Australia Time, with the main card fighting at approximately 3pm on a Sunday. Sunday afternoon is Australia’s “peak sport” time slot. And not just any sport, specifically contact sport. 

For the uninitiated, Australian Rules (footy) is best described as rugby played on a cricket field with the positional play of croquet, the hairstyles of darts players, and the fans of WWE. This depiction means the UFC’s content and timing perfectly align with what Australians demand from their Sundays. Small wonder the down-under UFC fanbase now boasted over four million Australians, 5.7 million households, and 66 million YouTube views in 2021. That number has almost certainly swelled significantly since then, too.

Australia’s cultural endorsement 

While much of the world watches UFC events at home with a crew, Australians celebrate one of their most cherished haunts: The Returned and Services League (RSL) club. Every town’s RSL is the north pole of Australian culture. RSLs are a precious meeting place for veterans, and their families as a community club provides a sense of camaraderie and support. Since the rise of Volk and Whittaker, RSLs have taken to advertising UFC fights on their electronic billboards. 

Seeing the UFC headliners in bright lights is like playing AC/DC on full volume for Australian communities. RSLs also tend to have the town’s best facilities, primarily due to funds created by Australians’ love of pokies (electronic slot machines). These club coffers mean large playgrounds for the little tackers, lawn bowls for the older set, and well-stocked bars for the thirsty. There’s entertainment for everyone, especially those MMA fans who want a cold beer and a rowdy yet wholesome atmosphere the whole community can get behind. 

Fire up the barbie!

When a UFC event is on, if you’re not at the RSL, you’re saddling up to the great Australian barbecue. Myth bust: Australians never throw shrimp on BBQs. Prawns (AKA shrimp) are a Christmas day delicacy. When it’s UFC time, the sausages and steaks get top billing. Cold beers flow. Backyard cricket games kick on. Bring-a-plates are organized. 

When the main fight card starts, the cricket ball gets retired, the BBQ is turned low, and fights take center stage. Kids (their presence is discouraged due to casual ‘C-bombs’ dropped into conversations) and underlings get the floor while the alpha-adults cop the prime seats. Beers rest in carry coolers, or kids are periodically sent to top up their elders at the threat of no post-fight ice creams. Next, the analysis begins, but it’s worth noting that Australians don’t do patriotism like Americans, even when a homegrown fighter is up. That level of flag-waving is deeply unsettling to Aussies. 

Aussie analysis

Australia’s national pastime is taking the piss and American cheese is a high-level target. That said, but anyone talking with too much authority will get ripped into, even if their expertise is well-earned. In Western Australia, all MMA-specific registrations (including trainers, officials, and industry partners) increased by 79 percent from 2021-22 to 2022-23, a rise from 559 to 1,003 in just a single year. Australians may know their MMA but don’t like a know-it-all.

“At a barbecue, it's hard to listen to a room full of idiots think they’re informed about UFC,” laughs Australian Simon Jessop, a jiu-jitsu purple belt and UFC fan. 

“When the jiu-jitsu club puts on a barbecue, it’s non-stop banter. These jokers think they’re smart but are just NPCs repeating stuff they heard on DC or Rogan. One thing we all agree on is that the UFC has plenty of WWE cheese. We trash-talk it all. Americanisms. Brazilian cheat culture. British softness. It’s all fair game!” While that may seem like a lot of Australian hate, the more an Australian likes you, the bigger the ribbing you’ll get. 

Wanna bet?

After American cheese, the other hot topic at UFC barbecues is sports betting. Per capita, Australians lose more than any country in the world on gambling, AUD $1,200 per year. These Australian losses are double the USA average. However, many Australians see UFC betting odds as a honey pot. 

“Our MMA bookies aren’t very clued up about the sport,” says Jessop. 

“You can make money by knowing the game or watching other fight promotions because new fighters don't always receive enough credit, allowing you to get favorable odds.” 

As many as 1 in 10 Australians bet via mobile phone. So, little knowledge from that dialed-in mate who's in the know often sparks a flurry of pre-fight bets. This dynamic feeds into the “Bet-With-Mates” online betting groups that have surged in popularity. Group winnings get pooled together, adding consequence to those undercard fights that can otherwise seem like a nothing fight. But sadly, just like Vegas, the house almost always wins. 

Closing time

Most UFC events in Vegas will finish in the late afternoon Australian time. This last-drinks call is the perfect excuse to ring the final rounds bell. 

“We often finish up at 5 pm, so the older crew goes home after a few beers with a belly full of food for an early one,” says Jessup. 

“The younger guys love a Sunday session, so they often kick on a local pub and carry on with the night.” 

This practice is a Down Under pastime, embraced for its ability to motivate Australians to get through the following week. Sunday sessions are a reminder there’s life at the end of the next five days. It’s a fight to hold onto the last seconds of the weekend. And Sunday UFC events always help hit that knockout blow, because every Australian knows Mondays are the perfect time to be paid to be hungover. Small wonder UFC is now considered a true-blue Aussie sport.