The UFC is by far the most exciting evolution to watch in MMA. Since 1993, it has provided viewers with some of the best fights in combat sports history. Most of us know how it got here and how it evolved. The question is, why isn’t it as big as the Big Four (MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL)?
UFC Public Relations and Social Media
Before social media, the UFC marketed their fights like boxing cards. They created a giant poster with the main event fighters, held a press conference, advertised in newspapers, and garnered airtime on TV and radio. Good marketing was how they caught fans attention. In the beginning, they were interactive with their fans. They allowed fighters to mingle with fans. Fans attended media day during fight week. Fighters did photo ops, signed autographs, and hung out with their fans. Eventually, social media came around and that meant a change in the landscape on how to reach fans. The UFC capitalized on the social media explosion by hiring smart, innovative, and intelligent people. They interacted with fans by providing breaking news, fight announcements, and continued exceptional fan interaction. After the UFC was purchased by WME (an entertainment company), the social media employees were replaced. Their accounts became mundane with no personality. I understand that when change happens in business, not everyone hangs around from the old regime. However, their PR has suffered and they do not relate to the fans anymore. Money is their primary goal.
We Love Violence, But Not Too Much
As I said previously, we meatbags (humans) love violence. It is a part of our genetic code. We are similar to the Ancient Romans that used to watch slaves get murdered in the Coliseum. The only difference now is our violent nature has softened, which is for the best. Many of us enjoy watching an NFL linebacker level a running back or an NHL defenseman smash a forward into the glass. As violent as that is, heaven forbid we put two people with four-ounce gloves in a cage and watch them beat the shit out of each other. That is too much, right? Most of us have a line, and the UFC crosses it. This hypocrisy is partially responsible for preventing the UFC’s growth. We all love to watch smash mouth football but forget or choose to ignore the studies. There are more concussions in the NFL than there are in the UFC (Look it up, it’s true. It’s damn true).
Casual Fans Lack Understanding
MMA purists like myself enjoy many aspects of an MMA fight. We see two fighters rolling and battling for position against the cage or the ground. We see a chess match. The casual fan sees a boring fight that “isn’t real fighting. I wanna see blood and knockouts.” Statistically, most street fights end up on the ground. The casual, fair-weather fan wants to see them brawl. Occasionally they will get what they want. They fail to realize that it isn’t boxing and that is what they are holding on to; an obsolete sport from a bygone era. Most casual fans have never trained in the sport and do not understand that what they are seeing is not real fighting. It is a controlled fight that has rules. They lack the understanding to differentiate the two.
The Fighters and Entertainment
We see it every month during a UFC PPV’s fight week. The constant trash talking and the “I am going to beat you up” robotic rhetoric that comes spewing out of these promos. The fact of the matter is that it is all fake. I’ve seen better acting from WWE superstars. It is one-hundred percent scripted and forced. This false hate for each other is insulting, especially when these guys hug each other after it is all over. There are no intriguing personalities other than Conor McGregor who is by far the best to ever get on a UFC microphone. Americans love stories, and intriguing personalities and the UFC is lacking in that department. There are no more major draws. Ronda is not coming back and Conor wants to box Floyd Mayweather. It is also full of bad guys that try to be good guys (Jon Jones, Daniel Cormier) and good guys trying to be bad guys. The casual fan and the purist do not buy it. You want characters? You are gonna have to watch Monday Night Raw or Smackdown Live.
Gasp! The big bad scary thing nobody wants to talk about…steroids. Most of the positive tests that rear their ugly head are not technically for steroids. We automatically hear that someone tested positive for something and we yell “STEROIDS!” Actually, most positive tests are performance enhancing drugs (PED). The most common PED is Testosterone Replacement Therapy (TRT). Most fighters that use TRT are older and have low Testosterone counts. They need TRT to keep up with the young lions. I am not saying that actual steroids are used, but most people do not do their research and assume everything is steroids. These positive tests are what is killing the UFC when it comes to the casual and loyal fan. The UFC either needs to allow it, or they need to come down harder so it will be eliminated.
What Will It Take?
The answer to the UFC becoming as significant as the major sports leagues is to work on PR and making the fighters marketable. Another theory is that the UFC needs actual competition. Coke has Pepsi, McDonald’s has Burger King, and the WWE had WCW. There are several promotions chomping at the bit to take the number one spot from the UFC. These promotions are Bellator, Rizin, World Series of Fighting, and One FC. If these promotions take the road that the UFC initially took, it could give UFC a run for their money. Competition is the best motivation a company needs to improve their growth. I think that if their rivals become legitimate, it can push the UFC to the stratosphere. It could also send it into a downward spiral. Only time will tell.