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The recipe for UFC superstardom
Let's face it: MMA is about fighting but at the end of the day, it truly is about entertainment. You need fans to care about your fights. A fighter needs a following to make it in this business. The more fans you have, the more value you have as a fighter.
It doesn't help a fighter much if they are a champion fans don't care about. You may be the #1 fighter in your weight class, but it still comes down to numbers. How many fans can you get to purchase tickets to your fight? How many fans will buy a PPV because you’re on the card? Basically, how much interest can you generate as a fighter in the UFC? Let's discuss the ways a fighter can best maximize interest when they fight.
The No. 1 way a fighter can generate fans is through their fighting style. If a fighter is exciting and dominant, people will tune in to watch. I remember when Mike Tyson fought back in the 80's and 90's. The world seemed like it all came to a screeching stop when he fought. Tyson's fights were electric. He was an intimidating and dominant force. Although his fights would many times end in quick knockouts people would still tune in and pay big bucks to watch him take out a guy in under a minute. Tyson encompassed a style that was fan-friendly because of the speed, skill and power he brought into the ring. He wasn't only there to win, he was there to destroy. Not only did he become the most popular boxer in his day, he was revered as one of the most famous athletes in the world. His peekaboo style of boxing combined beautiful defense with devastating offense and people stood in awe of how he was able to slip on the inside without taking much damage and make good pros look like amateurs. For much of his career, he proved to be head and shoulders above every one else in the heavyweight division.
Two UFC champions that have showed dominance and excitement in their wins are Jon "Bones" Jones and newly minted lightweight champ Anthony "Showtime" Pettis. Both men are fearless in their attempts to try flashy techniques that get the oohs and ahhs from the fans. These are the things get fans to tune in to see what kind of crazy techniques they will use next. Nobody will forget the Pettis cage kick anytime soon that he hit on Benson Henderson in the Zuffa-owned WEC in the 5th round as he cinched the fight and the title in the closing seconds. I believe both Jones and Pettis have the potential to move from stars to superstars in the UFC because their fighting styles truly deliver.
This brings me to my second point: what and how you say things. I'm a big believer that the best marketing for a fighter is an exciting fight style, but even better is if you can combine that with a dynamic personality. Take current UFC fighter and my buddy Chael Sonnen for example. He wasn't always a fast-talking and brash "American Gangster". Chael figured out that this is a business of entertainment. Through various pre- and post-fight interviews, newspaper articles and other media, Chael made it known that he is not here to make friends. In fact, Chael has made many enemies throughout his career but more importantly, he has made his fights matter. It is clear that Chael is quick-witted and fearless with his words and he knows how to make fights happen.
There is a reason why fighting is more popular than patty cake. There is excitement when two fighters have a beef. It automatically means something. There is a score to be settled and interest is then generated because of it. A fight is always more interesting when two fighters clearly don't like each other. People will then speculate about what can and will happen. People start listening and start choosing sides. Fans take to the Internet and writers explain the drama behind the arguments and insults which just keeps compounding the interest behind the fights. When you’re involved in a war of words, you need to be ready for the criticism and hate that may come along with this aggressive brand of marketing.
You also have to be ready for the perceived pressures that come along with having to back up what you say. If you say that you’re ready to put on a butt-whipping then you better do your best to deliver to the fans. The fans will only be fooled so many times before they call your bluff and lose interest. It’s also what makes calling a fighter out more interesting. One of my pet peeves is when a fighter has an opportunity to say who they want next during a postfight interview and they say, “It's up to the UFC". We know that, but who do you want to fight next? Sure it is more risky to call a fighter out or say directly that you want a shot at the title but that just makes people want to see if you are indeed able to accomplish your goals. It makes the fans want to follow that fighter's quest for whatever they set out to do.
Winning is a big part of that aspect. It'd be pretty hard to get a following if you were 0-38 in your career. You can be exciting fighter and a good talker but people want winners. Undefeated fighters will always generate interest, especially in the UFC where undefeated fighters is a rarity these days. We will know that there are so many ways to win and lose in this sport, be it a costly mistake in the Octagon or a bad decision. A record composed of many wins and few losses will always be more impressive than the alternative. Each win is a way for fighters to gain interest and attain more fans. It is also a great way of keeping you on the UFC roster so that you can get more of a following with every fight.
Consistency in the UFC can be a hard thing to do over a long career, but a great example of keeping a stellar record is Georges St-Pierre. Even with the one blemish on his record that he suffered to Matt Serra, he was able to avenge that loss. The welterweight they call GSP has done this in one of the most challenging weight classes. It is no mistake that he has been a PPV-selling juggernaut.
A quality coaching staff and a good business team is also crucial to taking a a fighter up the path to success in the UFC. The coaching staff is incredibly important in giving you the right training methods and guidance in your approach to winning and your management team gives you the right fights and marketing tools to become a household name. It’s so important that a fighter surround themselves with savvy and smart people who will protect them and look out for their best interests, in and out of the Octagon.
The longer you fight in the UFC, the more you can build your fan base. It is important for a fighter to not get caught up in the same patterns over and over again even if it has given you success in the past. A constant evolution in your MMA game will give you new and exciting techniques to learn and will keep your opponents and rival coaches guessing when strategizing against you. This also means a larger arsenal of techniques from which you can work from.
Say what you will of Vitor Belfort, but he is a great example of someone who has been around a long time, has a huge international fan base and has consistently improved and evolved throughout his career. Fighters always feared Belfort's fast hands and explosive starts. Now Belfort is showing a dynamic kicking game that has taken out stellar competition at 185lbs and 205lbs.
There you have it fans and fighters, the recipe for superstardom in the UFC. You know what ingredients you need but it takes a great team, a lot of hard work, intelligence and mental fortitude to attain.