UFC GYM chief executive Mark Mastrov and president Adam Sedlack talk to Sport Industry Insider about the success of the MMA fitness platform. 

The eyes of the world were on the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) in October when an enraged Khabib Nurmagomedov climbed out of the octagon and began a mass brawl with Conor McGregor’s entourage. It was an ugly moment but placed UFC at the heart of sporting conversations from Dubai to Dallas.

Opinion was generally divided but not in the Middle East, where Khabib was backed to the hilt. Far from turning people away from the UFC, his profile as a Muslim fighter has helped attract many new faces to MMA.

That has been keenly felt by UFC GYM – the organisation’s commercial fitness arm – which since 2009 has been capitalizing on the brand’s juggernaut-like momentum.

Operating a franchise model, it began life in the United States before going global in 2013. UFC GYM landed in Dubai two years ago and has branches in Business Bay and JBR, while facilities are also open in Bahrain, Egypt and Oman, with a huge new gym set to open in Kuwait soon.

Like many regions, the Middle East has certainly embraced MMA, to the understandable delight of UFC GYM chief executive Mark Mastrov and president Adam Sedlack.

UFC GYM president Adam Sedlack (l) and CEO Mark Mastrov (r)

“Rolling out globally wasn’t front and centre of our thinking when we set up UFC GYM but people have really bought into the brand and now, we’re in 28 countries,” Mastrov tells Sport Industry Insider. “.

“The UFC offers an incredible value proposition. Every great franchise company has to be a really strong sales & marketing company, looking to drive distribution channels wherever the value is. UFC is now a dominant global brand – the fastest-growing sport in the world – and we’re able to take advantage of that growth with our network of gyms worldwide.

As with any franchise model, local partners are key to creating a success product. Hamad Al Sayer is UFC GYM’s man in the Middle East, with Mastrov and Sedlack grateful for the role he has played in growing the company’s presence.

“Franchising is about creating products that are replicable, but the multiplier is the people that you choose,” Sedlack explains. “Picking the right franchise partner to make sure they can represent the brand is important. They are an extension of us.

“We really like what we see here in the Middle East. Hamad is a huge MMA and UFC fan with a big heart and we felt that if he could take the DNA of what he saw in the US and bring it here, it could be game changing.

“Hamad made us see that UFC GYM had incredible span and scalability – that we could open within the entire region. There’s a lot of trust that we put into him, and he’s absolutely delivered on every bit of trust that we provided.”

While many companies may turn to their franchisees simply as an alternative revenue stream, Sedlack insists UFC GYM has a much more symbiotic relationship with its facilities.

“We provide learning tools and have a digital university that allows franchisees anywhere around the world to plug into it. Some franchisees will take our best people from the US and fly them out to their regions to impact more people and train on the consistency in the value proposition of the UFC GYM brand.

“But then we will also find something that they’re doing here in Dubai that’s never been done anywhere else so we can take and apply the learnings back to the United States or Canada or wherever. It’s about sharing best practice and driving success for the brand around the world.””

“We want to encourage this relationship – to have challenges between countries, to see which country can burn more calories in a class in a day in a month etc. It’s all driven around consistent education, consistent information and execution making sure that we don’t lose anything as we continue to grow.

“The beautiful thing about our business, because we’re in so many countries now and have been, is we learn from each other,” said Mastrov.

UFC GYM has entered a market place in which the spectre of football looms large, a sporting behemoth that is head and shoulders above all others in terms of popularity. But the year-round nature of MMA makes it perfect for the Gulf summers and appealing as a permanent pastime, according to Mastrov.

“In countries like the UK and US you can basically play outside all year round but that is impossible here in the summer,” he said. “Training indoors is a necessity and we saw that there’s this big opportunity in this very hot climate to bring an indoor concept that allows you to excel and get in great physical condition year-round no matter what the outdoor weather may be.

“The whole aspect of respect and discipline also fits very well to the culture here. It’s not about fighting, it’s about training like a fighter. It’s about inspiring children and families to learn how to understand the discipline around mixed martial arts. We’ve already seen incredible growth and we expect even more going forward.”

Expansion in the Gulf has come quickly and now UFC GYM is looking further afield for future opportunities. For Sedlack, there is no limit to the company’s potential.

“I literally think we can be on every continent, including Antarctica”, he says. “Obviously there are some very strategic markets. For example the UFC is going to be doing a significant investment in China, having an event there this month and building a performance institute.

“We also have a site that’s being built in Pakistan; we found a fantastic partner out there and he’s building a 150,000 sq. ft gym right now that’s unbelievable, which will be one of the flagships in that region. We’re talking to people all over the world.

“We take our time. We build relationships. We want to find the right partners. We want to be able to support them and see them have success. At the end of the day, we just want to make a difference in the world, when it comes to exercise and an individual’s health and wellbeing.”