UFC’s Nathaniel Wood credits MMA’s UK popularity to Conor McGregor

This is an image of Conor McGregor inside the UFC octagon
Conor McGregor is largely responsible for MMA's growth in the UK, according to Nathaniel Wood. Photo: 4ypan4ukahec

Throughout the majority of its history, the UFC was looked at as the ugly stepchild of combat sports. The ruthless nature of the fights inside the octagon turned a lot of people off of watching. That has changed in the last decade, though.

The sport of mixed martial arts (MMA) has seen a significant upturn in popularity in recent years and it’s now watched by millions every week. In the United Kingdom, in particular, interest has never been higher. The UFC are capitalising on this, holding their first pay-per-view in the country since 2016 this summer.

UFC 304 will feature some of the UK’s biggest talent

UFC 304 is set to be a massive event, with a number of high-profile stars set to take part including Tom Aspinall. One man who will be on the card is Nathaniel Wood, and speaking about the surge in popularity of MMA in the UK, he acknowledges a certain Irishman for the movement.

“I’d credit Conor McGregor. His antics and personality have really brought loads of new eyes to the sport, especially ones from this side of the pond. Love him or hate him, there’s no denying he’s done a world of good for MMA.”

Things have changed pretty drastically over the years. When Wood first started to train, there weren’t many gyms to choose from in London, and these days, there are hundreds.

“Even in London, MMA wasn’t huge. Of course, a lot of people would have heard of the UFC, but I don’t remember there being many gyms around back then, other than the really big ones most people would have heard of.”

Without many options, Nathaniel Wood was forced to adapt

To get around the lack of viable gyms, Nathaniel Wood trained in several different types of martial arts before combining them all himself. Nowadays, there are plenty of locations throughout the country where they teach MMA as a specific discipline.

“I started out with some Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, before moving onto Muay Thai etc and then I just kind of put it all together myself, really. Luckily, the sport’s popularity started to grow several years ago and now the younger fighters, who are just starting out, don’t really have to do that. MMA is huge in London now and there are gyms dotted around everywhere.”

This is an image of an MMA gym filled with fighters training
When Nathaniel Wood started training, there were few MMA gyms in London, but loads have opened in the years since. Photo: Spirit Dojo Legacy

Now, Wood is competing in the featherweight division of the UFC and will be on the card when the company returns to England and hosts its first pay-per-view in eight years later this summer. With the card being held in Manchester, the 30-year-old will take on Daniel Pineda.

His future has come a long way, but according to the star himself, the future is even brighter for the UK and there are several names to keep an eye out for.

“You should definitely look out for Weseley Mia, Nik Bagley, Loner Kavangha, and Mike Ekundayo. These guys all have an unreal skillset and I’ve no doubt they’ll be joining me in the UFC one day.”

Time will tell whether those men do end up in the UFC alongside Wood. However, with the progress that the sport has made in the UK, they stand a good chance.