The truth is I love Paris. I have loved the French capital from my first visit 25 years ago as an undergraduate student to my most recent business trip as a sports business educator.
More so than the beautiful tourist sites like the Eiffel Tower, Louvre (Mona Lisa painting), Arc de Triomphe, and French cuisine, the influence of the African diaspora where over 3 million French nationals can trace their familial lineage back to the continent has always been something I have held near and dear to my heart over the years.
On a personal note, I never expected to walk through the streets of Paris from the neighborhoods of Bercy to Bastille and see so many faces that looked similar to mine. While my familial lineage is of Jamaica by way of Ghana, I felt a level of comfort and familiarity that added an element of solace during my most recent visit to Paris.
It is a guilty pleasure of mine to combine work with international travel whether it be for educational student programming or sports business consulting engagements. I have been fortunate over the years to visit amazing locales such as Tokyo, Barcelona, Mumbai, Buenos Aires, London, Madrid, New Delhi, Berlin, Manchester, and Doha to name a few, but nothing compares to the energy, vibe, and feeling of Paris.
Whether your experiences have been positive or negative in the city also known as the “Capital of Europe”, one thing I know is that a good time is not hard to find. On this most recent trip to Paris, I had the opportunity to secure ringside tickets to the Bellator Paris event on Friday, May 12th.
As the sport of Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) has taken the entertainment world by storm, I have always been fascinated by the unparalleled growth which has eclipsed boxing as a box office and pay-per-view (PPV) draw.
I’ve been fortunate to have attended my fair share of amateur and professional MMA events over the years all over the United States. In my career as an academic in sports business education, the need to stay close to major trends in the industry has thrust me into following MMA all over the United States and ultimately to the “City of Light”.
Traveling far and wide for MMA events in major metropolises like Washington, D.C. and Los Angeles, CA to small towns like Allentown, PA, and Dayton, OH has been both a labor of love and a learning experience.
Whether it is the Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC), Professional Fighters League (PFL), or One Championship (based out of Singapore), nothing quite prepared me for the experience of watching a live Bellator MMA event in Paris, France.
From the opening at Accor Arena, I was taken aback by the diversity of the crowd pouring into the arena. I arrived a couple of hours before the event, and was shocked by how the surrounding area of restaurants and bars by the arena was packed full of Parisians, Africans, Arabs, Indonesians, and Asians in the hours leading up to the event. It was a melting pot (or salad bowl based on your preference) of cultures, all embracing high-level MMA.
When I got to my seats I was shocked at the internationalization of the crowd and the variety of languages in the conversations I could hear within my periphery. Although the event was announced in English (not wholly irrational as Bellator MMA is a US-based promotion), everything from the music to the chants from the crowd was in French (Allez Les Bleus) and Arabic.
While the main event of the evening was former Bellator MMA Middleweight World Champion (185 lbs.) Gegard Mousasi (who is a Dutch national of Arabic descent) versus Fabian Edwards (a Birmingham, England national of Jamaican descent), the fight card was full of both Parisian and French nationals.
Most notable was Mansour Barnaoui who was the highest-profile French fighter (by way of Tunisia) fighter on the card. In a closely contested loss to former Bellator MMA Lightweight World Champion (155 lbs.) Brett Primus as part of the $1 million Grand Prix tournament, the crowd was in a frenzy over the 25-minute match. Everything from smoke bombs in the crowd which threatened to evacuate the arena to constant chants in Arabic and French, the crowd was fully standing the entire time.
Now Primus moves on to face the current Bellator MMA Lightweight Champion (Usman Nurmagomedov) who was in attendance at the event.
Overall, it was a fantastic event in Paris as Bellator MMA brought out the legend and pioneer Royce Gracie (Brazilian national) who served as a brand ambassador at the event. I thoroughly enjoyed this unique experience in Paris as the cultural exchanges, sporting excellence, and French hospitality were on full display.
There is something special about the inclusive nature of sport in the country of France and when combined with MMA, my experience in Paris lived up to everything I hoped it would be.