The UFC Enters Partnership With the British Wrestling Association

Fightland Blog

By Jake Hughes

Photo by Paul Buck/EPA

The UFC announced they will enter a partnership with the British Wrestling Association to help promote amateur wrestling within the United Kingdom.

The deal, spearheaded by the relatively-new UFC Senior Vice President and General Manager for EMEA in James Elliott, will see the UFC actively support British wrestling with their own resource.

Elliott said: “We are very happy to announce our new partnership with the British Wrestling Association. The UFC is fully committed to supporting the development of clean and safe amateur sports. Our sports share the same core values and wrestlers are among the most dedicated athletes in the world.”

The statement went on to say: “The UFC and the British Wrestling Association will continue to support the development of wrestling. By leveraging the UFC’s resources, the British Wrestling Association and its events will be prominently featured across organizational platforms such as UFC’s broadcasts, social and digital media.

“The BWA will provide its members with unique opportunities to experience UFC through a range of platforms including UFC events, UFC Fight Club, UFC Fight Pass, UFC Rewards and International Fight Week.”

Unlike in the USA, there is no real culture of amateur wrestling from youth level upwards within the UK as of now—that’s despite the country being steeped in wrestling history and heritage as founders of catch, or catch-as-catch-can, wrestling. Practitioners of this British-born style include the likes of Randy Couture, Kazushi Sakuraba, Josh Barnett and the legendary “Judo” Gene Lebell.

While often outdated and unfair, one criticism leveled at UFC fighters hailing from the UK is their insufficient proficiency in the wrestling department. Hopefully this move will help provoke a new generation of British wrestlers which go onto compete in the Olympics and in MMA.

The UFC already has an agreement with USA Wrestling to help with the discipline in the States. This deal was renewed again in 2015 after the mutually beneficial arrangement saw the UFC lend its support in USA Wrestling’s successful campaign to help maintain wrestling as an Olympic sport.

This isn’t the first time the UFC tried to lend its backing to a martial arts discipline within the UK. In late 2014, the UFC struck a similar deal with the British Judo Federation to promote both judo and the BJF’s events within the country.

The UK was gearing up to host the European Judo Championships in Glasgow. However, the European Judo Union—heavily influenced by the morally-corrupt and MMA-hating French Judo Federation who we covered—pulled the plug on the event just eight weeks before it was due to commence and was relocated to Baku, Azerbaijan. This was due to the BJF’s agreement with the UFC, which soon evaporated and the UK was then left without its flagship judo centrepiece just four months after the deal between the two organisations began.

The EJU’s statement at the time read: “The European Judo Union has come to the realisation that the British Judo Association does not fit the EJU criteria to host the EJU flagship event. The BJA had entered into a sponsorship agreement which did not meet the EJU values. BJA persisted in this, notwithstanding that it had been warned on a number of occasions that this arrangement was unacceptable to the EJU, which has a right under the event contract to approve or disapprove any sponsorships of EJU events.”

Luckily for British wrestling, the discipline and MMA are thoroughly entwined with each other—much more so than the relationship between judo and MMA, with judo’s relevance in the sport heavily relying on the broad shoulders of one Ronda Rousey. As proved with the UFC’s like-for-like deal with the USA, this is a massive leap in the progression of wrestling in Blighty.

These sentiments of synchronicity between both MMA and wrestling are echoed by Barry Pollin of the BWA, who said: “Wrestling is one of the foundations of mixed martial arts and UFC athletes share our traits of hard work and mental toughness that propels them as some of the highest performing athletes in all of sports.”

The new UFC EAMA leader in James Elliott is certainly making his mark on the European MMA landscape. Despite only being in charge for little over three months, the UFC have already announced they are to enter two new European markets in Croatia and The Netherlands during that time.

Here’s to more ground-breaking moves helping the market and its fighters progress further.


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