Global sports sensation the Ultimate Fighting Championship is coming to New Zealand.
The dominant promotional organisation in the world's fastest-growing sport of mixed martial arts, UFC events attract a massive global television audience and generate pay-per-view revenues in the tens of millions.
Plans are under way to bring an event to Auckland, and the organisation is also looking at a reality TV series that will pit New Zealand fighters against their Australian counterparts, UFC's managing director for International Development, Marshall Zelaznik, has confirmed to the Herald.
UFC bouts pit fighters from a variety of martial arts backgrounds against each other in an eight-sided steel cage known as the Octagon.
The fights are brutal, often bloody affairs, the sport perceived by many as barbaric.
Derived from the Brazilian tradition of vale tudo (anything goes) fighting, early MMA bouts contained few rules, attracting outrage that saw events widely banned and banished from television screens.
The reformed and highly regulated UFC has enjoyed an explosion in popularity in recent years. UFC television programming is shown in more than 140 countries, with annual pay-per-view revenues now exceeding those of professional boxing.
New Zealand was now the fifth or sixth-largest market for UFC pay-per-view sales and sales had gone up 20 to 30 per cent a year over recent years, Zelaznik said, and plans were now under way to bring fights here in the flesh.
"Auckland is on our hit list," Zelaznik said.
"We want to bring the UFC everywhere and we certainly want to bring it to places where we are bullish we will do well - and we are very bullish we will do well in New Zealand."
A reality show screening in Australia, UFC - The Smashes, pits Australian fighters against British fighters, and it's likely a follow-up series will involve New Zealand fighters taking on Australians.
The UFC was also considering bringing one of its top pay-per-view shows to Auckland, Zelaznik said.
"I don't know exactly when we'll get there but we've just done The Ultimate Fighter Australia versus United Kingdom and I am seriously looking now for the next season in Australia at whether we do Australia versus New Zealand.
"There is a natural rivalry there and a lot of camaraderie there.
"An event in New Zealand around that, or even bringing one of our fight nights or pay-per-views there, we have little doubt it would be a big success."
In this week's Herald we examine the staggering global rise of MMA - described by pioneers as a sport for an ADHD generation. Part one of a three-part series begins tomorrow when we track MMA's transformation from a bloody spectacle with freak-show appeal to a hugely popular mainstream sport.