From Manchester City to the UFC, Garry Cook discusses his latest challenge

The former Manchester City chief talks to The Independent's Jack Pitt-Brooke about the growth of UFC

“I see no reason to sit and wait for it to happen,” says Garry Cook, discussing the challenge of promoting Ultimate Fighting Championship with as much ambition as he did Manchester City, his former employers. “I have always had it as part of my make-up. I think you have to make things happen. And we are making things happen, on a daily basis.”

UFC is the world’s dominant mixed martial arts competition, huge in the United States and Brazil. Cook’s task, as managing director of Europe, Middle East and Africa, is to take this into markets where in the past it has been viewed with some suspicion.

Last Saturday, UFC held its biggest ever event in Europe, selling out the 20,000 capacity O2 arena and attracting nearly 600,000 viewers on Channel 5, its first ever venture onto British free to air television. Just as NFL has been popular with British live and television audiences, Cook hopes that UFC can do just as well.

Beyond London, there are events planned in 2014 in Berlin, Dublin, Stockholm and Istanbul. There are plans for 10 or even 12 European events each year by 2016. Cook is keen to exploit the deep roots that mixed martial arts already have. “In Turkey, Russia and Poland, there are tremendous opportunities where the sport is ingrained in the culture, but where it has never been formally commercialised by the largest operator in this space.”

Ju-jitsu, which forms part of MMA, is traditional in Abu Dhabi, so much so that it forms part of the school curriculum there. That is where Cook is taking UFC next – with an event on 11 April – and his old links from Manchester City are particularly useful. “The Abu Dhabi royal family have an ownership stake in the business, they are partners,” Cook revealed. “My interaction and connection is still with all the same people who were engaging at Manchester City, I was in Abu Dhabi recently working on a TV deal, working with the same people.”

Garry Cook took a different approach to image rights Garry Cook during his time at Manchester City  

Cook’s oversaw rapid expansion at City, but not everything that he said sat particularly well with everybody. He admits now that some of his enthusiasm was strategic. “It is well documented that some of the statements I made about the growth of Manchester City were a bit more ambitious than people were ready for,” Cook says. “A lot of those statements were made to galvanise an audience, a fan base, I wanted to take them all in a direction. I wanted them all to come with me.”

Rallying MMA fans in Europe is a similar challenge. “There is a core audience, we know this because 97 per cent of our programming has been after 3am. You’ve got to be a pretty avid fan to wait until 3am to watch a live event.”

“That core audience has never been given more product, more content, to view at primetime. It not just allows the core audience to watch it, but it enables you to grow the audience.”

Just as he did at City, Cook wants to give his audience as much ‘product’ as they can possibly handle. Before the O2 event, there was an open work-out, where fans could meet the fighters, as well as a public weigh-in, all part of the fan experience. There are future plans for UFC gyms, video games and so forth. Cook wants UFC live events to be “a mixture between a rock n roll show and a sports entertainment event.”

“At Manchester City, people used to say ‘I’m going to the match.’ They never used to say ‘I’m going for the weekend.’ So we built outdoor events, we created a space where you’d want to go and hang out. We broke the cultural barrier between going to the pub and going to the match. We were trying to create an environment called a ‘fan experience’, attracting an audience that spanned not only hard-core City fans but enticing young supporters to come and enjoy the experience. So let’s use that example in UFC.”

“You can change the landscape of a football club and set it on a course to change its direction. But with UFC I feel we are changing the landscape of sport. The destiny is in our hands.”

The UFC heads to the Middle East on Friday 11th April, at Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island, for the second of six Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) Fight Night events to take place in 2014. For more information visit www.ufc.com 

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Home Care / Support Workers

£7 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care provider is looking for Home ...

Recruitment Genius: Web Team Leader

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Recruitment Genius: Client Manager

£27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A growing, successful, friendly...

Recruitment Genius: Property Negotiator - OTE £20,000+

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'