The Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) has announced its debut in France, with Accor Arena to host an event in Paris on September 3.

The announcement marks a breakthrough for the UFC in a key market, with France having only recently opened up to mixed martial arts following years of banning the practice of MMA.

UFC’s debut in France marks the culmination of a decade-long effort by the promotion to obtain official recognition of MMA by French authorities and to integrate it into the broader French sports ecosystem.

Following formal recognition of MMA by the French Ministry of Sport in early 2020, the French Broadcast Authority (ARCOM) authorised the broadcast of MMA events in France and the National Gaming Authority (ANJ) began allowing betting operators in France to offer wagering on UFC bouts.

The first professional MMA fights were held in France later in 2020, with the broadcasting of the discipline having previously been banned since December 2005. Following the Accor Arena event announcement, the UFC said it will continue to work closely in the coming months with the French Boxing Federation and the French Mixed Martial Arts Federation to promote the positive impact of MMA as a sport.

Tickets for September’s maiden event will go on general sale on June 24, with the UFC touting “exponential” growth in popularity in France in recent years, despite never holding an event in market. There are an estimated 3.8 million UFC fans in France, and it remains the second largest country in Europe on UFC social media platforms.

Commenting on why the UFC has waited while rival promotion Bellator has already held two events in France, UFC chief operating officer, Lawrence Epstein, told French newspaper L’Équipe: “Our goal has never been to come first. But rather to be the first to offer the best show.

“We are incredibly excited to present our first event in Paris after all the efforts we have made, for more than 10 years, for MMA to be recognised around the world, particularly in France, with the Ministry of Sports, so that it can be broadcast on French TV channels, so that betting is allowed on UFC events. It has been a long journey to come to France, it has taken a lot of effort.”

Regarding the UFC’s long-term plans for the French market, Epstein added: “It’s absolutely a big potential market. We know there is a very large fan base in France. There is a real MMA culture, despite the long ban.

“France is also a kind of brand in itself, known all over the world, being present there is necessarily beneficial for us. And our long-term plan is to be present there on a regular basis, and probably on a multi-annual basis.

“We are convinced that organising several events, in different cities, Paris and Marseille in particular, can be a real springboard for our development. We would love to have a recurring date giving us the opportunity to travel to France. Early September seems to us to be an interesting date.”

Image: Accor Arena