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Fight City

This Saturday's UFC headline bout in Atlanta could vault MMA into the mainstream. Or not.

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Jon “Bones” Jones, shown here after defeating Ryan Bader at UFC 126 in Las Vegas last year, has both embraced and denied comparisons to Muhammad Ali. - JED JACOBSOHN/ZUFFA LLC/ZUFFA LLC VIA GETTY IMAGES
  • Jed Jacobsohn/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
  • Jon “Bones” Jones, shown here after defeating Ryan Bader at UFC 126 in Las Vegas last year, has both embraced and denied comparisons to Muhammad Ali.

All that said, UFC's White is right to suggest the company is on the forefront of using all forms of media to get his league's story told to fans outside the core audience. While diehard fans have gotten upset over the Ali-Jones comparisons, it has helped raise interest in the fight among those who are merely MMA-curious.

So UFC doesn't have to rely on mainstream print and digital media to get its story out. It has embraced social media like no other league of its size, ensuring fans can interact with and talk to players on platforms like Twitter. While the NFL (and big sports media companies like ESPN) worry themselves over what their employees say on Twitter, the UFC gives bonuses for players who use social media regularly. It produces behind-the-scene videos of training sessions and exclusive interviews that feed fans' information appetite.

It also helps generate interest in the city when a big event takes place. They have events open to the public in the days leading to the fights (Jones and Evans will hold training sessions at Georgia Tech on Thursday). Heck, the press conferences are open to the public. They have social media scavenger hunts for tickets and prizes, which is why you may see a well-muscled mob of folks downtown checking their iPhones before bolting in formation like a murder of crows. They have people stationed about town at sports bars to watch the Pay-Per-View fights with fans. UFC realizes that, in today's fractured entertainment world, to grow you need to break down walls between fans and stars, and that's something UFC has been impressive in doing.

Because most of today's UFC stars began as small-town unknowns, and within just a few years found themselves battling before sell-out crowds. To my mind, that's the UFC's biggest selling point: This can happen to you. The story lines write themselves in real time, not before a match, and you can be the next big thing. Because at the end of the day, it always comes back to the fight. This one will, too. It could be a story of ascendant greatness, the Jon Jones story. It could be the story of the formerly despised underdog making a last stand for himself, turning the crowd in his favor despite all odds.

Or it might be a boring-as-hell fight that everyone forgets about almost immediately. You know, like the second Ali-Frazier fight.

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