UFC 221 gave us a couple new fighters to get excited about, but does the UFC’s breakneck pace make it difficult to spotlight them, or is there something else going on that prevents the creation of new stars? MMAjunkie columnist Ben Fowlkes and retired UFC and WEC fighter Danny Downes discuss in this week’s Trading Shots.
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Fowlkes: This is going to shock you, Danny, but here we are in the aftermath of UFC 221, and I find myself reeling from a bout of sudden, unexpected optimism. It was a lineup that many fans complained about, and seemingly not that many actually paid for. (In their defense, $65 for zero title fights and a couple Aussie-leaning mismatches is a little steep.)
Actually, now that I think about it, there are a few fighters like that lately. Fighters with more of a future than a past. Fighters who seem like they might really turn into something, like Gregor Gillespie and Kamaru Usman. But then, the former got similarly ignored by the UFC before and after his win, and the latter got actively buried by UFC President Dana White for committing the sin of winning without looking awesome and then telling us he fought injured.
Am I the only one who’s seeing these missed opportunities pile up? The talent is there. So are the personalities. Is the problem that the UFC is so busy scrambling from one event to the next that it can’t take the time to focus people’s attention on these potential future stars?
I don’t know about you, but I basically live in the MMA bubble, and I heard nothing from the UFC about Adesanya or Tuivasa leading up to this event. Why isn’t the promoter out there promoting?
Downes: Maybe because suckers like you will let them off the hook? For as much as people like to decry the so-called media for trying to destroy the sport, even cynics like you keep making apologies. I remember a Ben Fowlkes of years past who would mock people who used lines like, “The cards that don’t look good on paper always deliver!” Maybe next week we can talk about how you should “never leave it in the hands of the judges.”
You may think I’m being a little harsh, but I think this attitude is indicative of how the promotion has been approaching matchmaking as of late. There’s a certain floor for PPV buys. We may get an even better picture of what that number looks like after UFC 221.
Outside of Patrick Wyman at Deadspin.com, though, the majority of stories I saw leading up to the fights this weekend were about why we should watch it. Now in the aftermath of the fights, all the stories are about how great UFC 221 was.
I understand why that might be the case. It’s hard to drive traffic if you’re crapping all over an event before and after. Also, who wants to write about negative stuff all the time? Even I can enjoy watching a guy drink beer out of a shoe.
Our desire to find the positive in cards mean the impact of negative PR never really comes to fruition. Plus, the combination of our short attention span and the busy fight schedule means there’s little to no time to focus on anything positive or negative. There will be some recap articles today and tomorrow, and then we’ll be talking about “UFC Fight Night 126: Cerrone vs. Medeiros.” There’s another UFC Fight Night event the week after and a PPV the week after that.
The UFC knows there’s only so much time, effort and money to go around. What’s the return on investment? Remember a couple weeks ago when you were giddy for Daniel Cormier vs. Stipe Miocic? I tried to tell you about the long term repercussions and how the fight was indicative of structural problems. Remember what you did? WHO CARES!?!?! SQUIRREL!
Fowlkes: Danny Downer strikes again. You act like the UFC is getting away with something here, as if failing to promote potential new stars is somehow in the company’s best interests. The numbers for both free TV cards and pay-per-views of late suggest otherwise.
It also seems like your insistence on not enjoying yourself is bound up in some desire to keep yourself from feeling like a “sucker.” I’m here to tell you, Danny, it’s OK. You can have fun watching an exciting striker win a fight and then pretend to pee on the cage.
You can admit that you’d like to see more this hard-partying heavyweight rugby player. You can do all that and still acknowledge that the UFC is missing golden opportunities because it’s too busy trudging joylessly through a hectic schedule that spreads its talent too thin.
You mentioned Wyman’s Deadspin.com column. One good point (among many) that he made was about the UFC’s over-reliance on the power of the brand. Instead of hyping up the various diverse appeals of specific fighters, it seems convinced that “there’s a UFC event on Saturday” is all the sales pitch it needs. I think there may have even been a time when that was mostly true, but that time is over.
What I can’t figure out is whether or not this approach is intentional, like some ill-advised reaction to the power and problem of Conor McGregor’s independent celebrity status.
All these fun new faces, and it’s like the UFC can’t be bothered to try to tell us who they are or make a case for why we should care about them. Meanwhile, you know who I see everywhere, from Esquire to “Pawn Stars”? Dana White. And he’s not out there promoting UFC fighters so much as he is hyping up himself.
This baffles me because, last time I checked, he doesn’t fight. Lots of times he doesn’t even attend his own events. So why does the marketing machine choose to give him so much of the spotlight?
Downes: You unknowingly proved my point for me. In my first response I mentioned how there’s a bias toward positive coverage of the UFC because traffic is dependent on it. I guess I forgot to mention that the positivity bias also relies on bullies like you calling people a “downer” if they say otherwise.
Much like the UFC’s promotional strategy, I can’t figure out if your mischaracterization of my position is intentional or not. I said that the fights were enjoyable, but that doesn’t mean the UFC hasn’t been neglecting everyone else at the expense of a couple superstars. Both things can exist simultaneously, Ben.
If I had to venture a guess, however, I would say that the current strategy is purposeful. The UFC needs only a couple of hits to make that money. By diverting resources to a couple huge shows instead of spreading it out equally, it maximizes profits.
Heck, if the UFC can make another McGregor vs. Mayweather gimmick fight, it could afford another year or so of UFC 221s. Why spend time and money to develop Coke II when you can stick with Coca-Cola Classic?
As for why White gets the shine, there are a multitude of reasons. The reaction to McGregor’s negotiation power may be an element, but White was putting himself over fighters long before “Mystic Mac” showed up.
All told, while the UFC has neglected the majority of the roster, we’re also overestimating the UFC’s ability to “make stars.” Whether is the Zuffa or Endeavor era, who has the UFC built? McGregor did it himself and the UFC (wisely) latched on. It certainly helped amplify his star power, but they didn’t create it.
Are Paige VanZant and Sage Northcutt superstars? They may be better known than the average fighter, but they’re not even in the same celebrity status as Kathy Griffin.
It takes a village to make a superstar, and nobody is really doing their part. Fighters and managers aren’t interested in putting in the work. The UFC doesn’t want to exert itself. Reporters and journalists don’t want to write about people who aren’t known commodities. I ask you, are you going to be writing any Adesanya or Tuivasa columns this week? And if you do, will anyone read them?
Ben Fowlkes is MMAjunkie and USA TODAY’s MMA columnist. Danny Downes, a retired UFC and WEC fighter, is an MMAjunkie contributor who has also written for UFC.com and UFC 360. Follow them on twitter at @benfowlkesMMA and @dannyboydownes.
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Source: USA Today – MMA Junkie
Read the full article here: Trading Shots: UFC 221 gave us new fighters to get excited about, but will they be lost in the shuffle?