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By: Frank Hyden, MMATorch contributor
With Georges St-Pierre being taken out of his UFC 137 main event fight with Carlos Condit due to injury, we get B.J. Penn vs. Nick Diaz as the sole headliner now. The UFC couldn't have replaced the GSP-Condit fight with another high-profile fight because of the short time remaining until UFC 137, so it's hard to be too critical of this fight card. However, the UFC did make a mistake by not already having another high-profile matchup on the card to begin with.
The UFC should strive to always have at least three big-name fights on every pay-per-view card it puts on. I don't count Roy Nelson vs. Mirko Cro Cop as a big-name fight because this isn't 2006. I've always been a huge Cro Cop fan, but he isn't who he used to be. Age catches up to everybody, even a guy who might be your favorite fighter of all-time.
The UFC needs to do a better job of planning these fight cards out. You can't put everything you've got for an event in one or two fights. UFC 137 still has B.J. Penn and Nick Diaz to try to add the sizzle, but the other fights consist mostly of lesser-known guys. Hardcore MMA fans may know who some of the other fighters on this card are (Scott Jorgensen, Hatsu Hioki, etc.), but casual fans may not. That's on the UFC.
You can find countless hours of programming about NFL teams and their players. I don't expect the UFC to be able to mimic that exactly, but they need to have more specials about fighters in the UFC. It's a Catch-22 situation. The UFC doesn't want to spend a lot of time promoting guys who aren't big names, but those guys aren't big names because they don't get talked about. The answer is pretty simple, allow other people to do the promoting for you.
Most of the programming that involves the NFL isn't created by the NFL. Shows like Sportsnation, Around The Horn, Pardon The Interruption, NFL 32, Numbers Never Lie, and a bunch of other shows are made by ESPN. There are many other shows on other networks as well that aren't made by the NFL, but discuss the NFL at length. When the UFC was negotiating with FOX to bring UFC programming to the FOX family of networks, one of the things that should have been discussed was a daily talk show of some sort that involved UFC discussion. Include other sports in the discussion like the NFL and the NBA, and MLB, but make sure that MMA topics are also discussed on the show. How hard would it be to essentially ape Pardon The Interruption, but just ensure that the UFC gets discussed on the show every day?
It's all about increasing brand awareness, and at the same time increasing fighter awareness. There's several different show concepts and formats that could be used. The key would be to piggyback off of the popularity of the NFL by having several segments on these shows about the NFL, while also mixing in a generous helping of MMA and UFC news. Sports-talk radio and TV that included plenty of UFC talk wouldn't cost the UFC anything because they wouldn't be producing the shows. UFC brass might balk at that idea, but if they ever truly want to become mainstream they have to learn to loosen up.
The Ultimate Fighter is a good vehicle that allows the UFC to increase their awareness, but the show has become too formulaic now. Everyone knows what to expect before it happens. I'm not saying eliminate the tabloid/reality TV junk entirely, but every new season feels like a repeat that's been slightly tweaked. The UFC doesn't need guys who only want to be TV stars, that doesn't help them. What they do need are guys who want to be TV stars, but also want to MMA fighters. They need guys who can back it up in the Octagon. The sports world is littered with characters who washed out because their athletic ability didn't match their marketing acumen. Brian Bosworth and Freddie Mitchell are the two that immediately spring to my mind, but if anyone can remember more, e-mail me at the address at the end of my blog.
The point is, the UFC doesn't need Freddie Mitchell and Brian Bosworth, they need some more guys like Brian Wilson from the San Francisco Giants. I'm not advocating guys acting weird for the hell of it, but standing out helps. Being unique helps. My biggest problem with Chael Sonnen isn't his showman nature and all that, I'm ok with that, he's just trying to stand out. My problem with Sonnen is that he takes it entirely too far. Chad Ochocinco may be a bust in New England, but he's generally been a productive player. He's also very well-known outside of the hardcore football fans. He's a personality.
I know not every fighter is Ochocinco or T.O. or guys like that, and I don't want them to be. You want guys to be who they are, but we need to know who they are. It is upon the UFC to make sure that we know who their fighters are. In other sports, you have the team to root for or against. Guys may come and go, but the team remains. I know the UFC may be hesitant to put too much focus on the fighters because they're afraid of a guy leaving or holding them up for more money, but in order to take that next step, they have to be willing to take that chance. The UFC is big now, there's no question, but to get bigger is going to require more work on their part.
Comments and suggestions can be e-mailed to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
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