Among deeper issues, Tyron Woodley is talking about market expansion
When UFC Welterweight Champion Tyron Woodley goes on ESPN and discusses his perspective on race in mixed martial arts, many are quick to discredit his claims, others parse his comments for validity, but very few acknowledge his very consistent position on the UFC using him to expand their market penetration.
Dissecting whether or not Woodley is mistreated by the promotion due to his skin color is beyond the scope of this column. The public is unware of his behind-the-scenes dealings with the UFC, nor are we privy to the bottom-of-the-barrel social media vitriol that is thrown at him.
However, the public is aware of the lack of transcendent African-American stars in the UFC, and MMA as whole still does have a reputation of being what Woodley has referred to as a sport where “a whole bunch of crazy white fighters are kicking the hell out of each other, with a sprinkling of a few brothers in there.”
An athlete bringing up race in a public forum tends to be a dicey proposition for the athlete. They are bringing up a subject that a society is not equipped to discuss in a rational manner, but Woodley’s comments are not solely tied to social issues; they are also relevant to the UFC’s bottom line.
With the UFC emanating from a country with evolving population demographics, it is in their best interest to appeal to a wide variety of people.
To their credit, in many respects the UFC is a leader in sports diversity when it comes to the stars they promote.
When hearing Woodley’s comments (or a Meryl Streep acceptance speech), many would point to the fact that the UFC currently boasts champions from five different countries, including the current Women’s Bantamweight Champion Amanda Nunes, who hails from Brazil and is the first openly gay UFC champion.
While these progressive business practices are to be applauded, it does not remedy the promotion’s lack of connection to the African-American community.
Woodley feels that he can be a missing piece to a puzzle that the UFC has been unable to solve.
Whether or not Woodley can be the right guy, in the right place, at the right time, remains to be seen; but more than anything, he is asking for the opportunity to prove that he can be that guy.
Quite frankly, if Woodley does not feel that the UFC is doing an adequate job of promoting him, he is taking action to make sure that UFC fans and the media take notice. He is taking a similar rout of self-promotion that has served other UFC stars very well.
The difference with Woodley is that he is framing his self-promotion in the backdrop of a topic that cuts deep at the soul of America’s most taboo subject matter.
Taken as a whole, Woodley is not merely race baiting, or selling the main event of UFC 209, he is asking for the UFC to hand him the baton to penetrate an untapped market.
Woodley is acting much less like a UFC agitator and more like a potential partner.
Bellator 170 had the perfect ending to Tito Ortiz’s two decade career, when he submitted Chael Sonnen and presumably rode off into the sunset.
Tito Ortiz is undoubtedly a pioneer of MMA, but also someone that has become to a cliché and a laughingstock.
Beyond his public caricature, there exists a real person; that real person was actualized expertly by Jonathon Snowden of Bleacher Report in a feature titled, “PORN, PAIN, AND DONALD TRUMP: THE REBIRTH OF MIXED MARTIAL ARTS LEGEND TITO ORTIZ.”
In one of the few interviews given by Ortiz prior to Bellator 170, Snowden chronicles The Huntington Beach Bad Boy’s acrimonious relationship with the UFC, his many career injuries, and his complex personal life.
The piece is a humanizing portrait of a figure that who usually resides in MMA folklore.
In the wake of Bellator 170, it is an even more relevant read.
NOW CHECK OUT LAST WEEK’S COLUMN: MEDIA & BUSINESS: If Conor McGregor vs. Floyd Mayweather actually happens, does the MMA media lose credibility? Plus some Good Reads…
(Robert Vallejos writes a new Specialist column for MMATorch titled “Media & Business” focused on, you guessed it, the media coverage of MMA and the business side of MMA. He is fascinated by the presentation, business decisions, media strategy, and press coverage of both UFC and MMA as a whole, and will bring that curiosity to explore and delve into that side of MMA to his weekly Specialist column here at MMATorch. He explains his approach: “As a sport in its relative infancy, MMA does not receive the same level of scrutiny and informed analysis from the sports media as other more established entities. This is why it is vital for independent outlets such MMATorch to grow, while featuring a variety of voices. Unlike mainstream outlets, MMATorch is not beholden to any organization. Therefore I believe it is essential for individuals such as myself to explain not only the ‘what’ but also the ‘why’ of MMA.”)