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.