Words Are Cheap, Shut Up And Dance

I’ve made my opinion clear, regarding the differences between WWE/Pro-Wrestling and MMA and where each one should live. We talked a lot about the role of trash-talk in the hyping up of fights, and PPV sales generation. But we didn’t look hard enough at, how effective trash talk was through the years, and more importantly in the present. So, I decided to see what is the correlation between: The volume of trash talk a fighter puts out, the quality of said trash talk (There are levels to this game), their general level as a fighter and popularity. Before we dive in, here are some comments about this experiment:
Volume: How often a fighter trash-talks or does self-promo work.
Quality: How much sense the things a fighter says make, wit, bite, validity.
Overall quality: How good is the fighter, based on his record, performances and achievements.
Popularity: How much is the person celebrated, how much s/he contributes to sales and popularity of the sport.
General comments: This is not a scientific work, and what statistics and information I got is largely available to all of you. This is a pretty subjective exercise, but I tried to stay as unbiased as possible. Still, if you suspect I have a strong opinion on the matter, you are correct. Also, I will only consider legit top 10 fighters in their respective weight.

(Thank you Yaron, Ofir and Atsmon for reminiscing with me, bringing up some legendary trash talk, in preparation for this post!)

 

Tale Of The Tape:

Conor is, in my humble opinion, the most talented and successful trash talker – slash – persona in MMA history. Not a very bold statement, which in itself is the proof in the pudding. Conor spoke often, spoke well, for the most part kept it classy (within the realm of insults) and backed up his bragging very convincingly, until he didn’t. When Conor lost to Nate, and to Khabib, he wasn’t “exposed” as a “bad fighter”, we only saw that there are holes to his game, and that perhaps his heart was not in it enough at times. Conor is also the best seller in UFC/MMA history, with no real threat on the horizon.

Tale Of The Tape:

Lesnar didn’t speak very often, but spoke loudly, and did not suck at this. His experience as a pro-wrestler came in handy, in the way he handled the mic, and himself in the cage. Especially following his wins. Lesnar is likely the number 2 best seller, and we can definitely attribute this to his crossover fanbase. Brock brought many viewers to the sport, and if anything, he deserves the respect for that. As a fighter he was seriously compromised by Cain, and did not really get back from that.

Tale Of The Tape:

Georges did most of his talk in the cage. He spoke very little in terms of hype, and when he did try his hand at it, came off a bit goofy. The famous “I’m not impressed with your performance” was so Canadian of him, and he even apologized for that. It’s not his game. On the other hand, GSP was an actual draw – mostly, but not only in Canada – and for his time, was considered a sort of a golden eggs laying goose. You either watched him, hoping to see him lose, or watched to see him destroy another hyped-up opponent. But you watched. Georges is one of the GOATs.

Tale Of The Tape:

Ronda was not a very slick trash talker, and most of what she threw at the mic were Diaz level brags. However, Ronda provided the goods, with a very impressive run, and had the luxury of having the full support of UFC marketing machine. Her achievements in the cage, and constant exposure brought her mainstream attention, and drew people to the sport. It’s hard to quantify, and I don’t think she was as big of a draw as Conor or Brock (The other 2 who can lay claim to drawing people in), but she made an impact.

 

Tale Of The Tape:

Jones’ trash talk was almost exclusively saved for Daniel Cormier. It was sharp, it was aimed for the jugular, and – even a big DC fan as myself must admit – for the most part, was backed by facts, as irritating as that was at times. Jon is one of the best fighters ever, and it’s very likely that his life choices had hurt his popularity and drawing power. His PPVs are still some of the most anticipated ones, but I don’t recall numbers quite as high as some of the above (please correct me if I’m wrong).

 

Tale Of The Tape:

While DC is a smooth talker, with a quick reply at the ready, he did lose the trash talk battle with Jones, simply on the basis of losing the respective fights. He can hold the moral grounds, but Jones – for inexplicable reasons – remains the fan favorite in this battle. DC is very popular, but could be so much more (as is the case in general) without losses to Jones.

Tale Of The Tape:

The count is not smooth. He is witty, quick, creative and in your face. Bisping won, way more often than he lost, never looked terrible (expect that one time…) and has never succumbed to any verbal assault. He’ll always have the last word in an argument, even if it’s two words. You know. FU. Michael sold out events in England, and even if you don’t want to admit it, when the stakes were high – trash talk wise – you showed up just to see him eat crow (Where were you when Hendo landed that bomb?) There is no denying his skills, his heart and his endurance. Mike is legend.

Tale Of The Tape:

The diazes (Nick mostly) were always bitter. They have their style, they never apologized for it – quite the contrary – and in many cases also said things with some validity. Their command of the English language made them appealing for a far smaller crowd than they might’ve been able to engage otherwise, and the negative, whiny tone of said talk did not serve them well. Constantly criticizing the system, the organization, their opponents, and never owning their mistakes. Someone took them down? it wasn’t because they couldn’t defend it, it’s because of the pro wrestling rules. A fight didn’t go their way? The opponent didn’t fight to their advantage, everybody’s on steroids. It doesn’t sell much. Both brothers are very skilled, but seem to have gotten stuck in their comfort zone, which I believe, prevented them from achieving real greatness.

Tale Of The Tape:

Colby Covington is actually not a bad guy… I just saw a video that puts a stamp on what was suspected – it’s all an act. Colby decided to adopt the role of the heel, and takes it to the absolute limit, and then a couple of steps further. A very impressive run, culminating in a win over Robbie Lawler, in such a fashion that makes a title shot pretty much a done deal. Colby talks a lot. Colby talks a lot of nonsense, maintain a really trashy image, and treats fighters with very little respect. Can anyone tell me that this made him a huge seller? I do not see any supporting data. Yes, MMA fans and Trump family members talk about him, but beyond that…

Tale Of The Tape:

Perhaps the one guy in the list who made the most out of pure imagery. Kudos to Chael for talking his way into some big fights. He has a way with words, though sometimes there’s no real sense in what he says. He is loud and confident, knows how to play to his strengths, and j-u-s-t good enough to be taken seriously sometimes, or at least semi-legit in others. The thing with Chael is that he didn’t really back his talk up. There is just a gap between what he claims to be able to do, and what he actually did.

Conclusions:

As I mentioned, this is not a scientific experiment. But I think my thesis holds water. Trash talk does not sell. Especially, if it is not strongly linked to performance in the cage. We can see a guy like GSP selling out arenas with close to no talk, Rousey bringing eyeballs to the screen with little talk. We can see big trash talkers achieving less than stellar popularity, and at the very top, we have a person who came with a built-in following on the one hand, and group of people who wanted to see him fall on the other, as well as the one person who did it just-right.
My recommendation remains – as writers say “Show, don’t tell”. If you are not Conor McGregor (hint: you are not) just show up, fight, give us the performance that will make us care, and we will come. We will pay money to see good fights.
Or as Aerosmith, so eloquently put it – Shut up and dance!


UFC 237 AfterMMAth (Pulling Triggers)

UFC237 was another card that over delivered, for the lack of general enthusiasm among MMA fans. It featured 7 finishes in 12 fights, and for the most part was a fun watch.
Alright, let’s jump right to my picks. Then, we’ll chat about this, that and the other.

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McGregor and Jones: The Fine Lines Between The Controller And The Controlled

The world of MMA (read: UFC) was blessed by two individuals in recent years. The first was Ronda Rousey, who was since put back in perspective and likely retired. The second one is of course, Conor McGregor. It’s almost tempting to call him the more significant of the two, since I believe he brought bigger figures in terms of money and main stream exposure, but… the creation of women divisions in UFC is far from being something to sneeze at, and as Dana likes to say, we have Rousey to thank for that.
So at this point I’d like to thank Ronda and move on to Conor. But I want to look at this today through a small comparison of sorts. Well, maybe comparison isn’t the word. Perhaps perspective? Or simply observation? Let me know, once you finish reading.
While the Ronda and Conor fest was playing, another story developed. That of UFC Light-heavyweight champion, Jon Jones. This of course, got some attention and generated debate, but it was far from being on par with Conor’s journey to win titles in both Featherweight and Lightweight divisions, and no where close to his latest adventure into the boxing ring, to fight the legendary Floyd Mayweather.
For years, I’ve been thinking about what happens in that gap between sports, entertainment and money. That, and the reasons behind what makes one individual more popular, more appealing, more successful than the other.
I think the best example of what I’m talking about, is the differences between Jon Jones and Conor McGregor. Two of the most successful fighters in history. One, a guy who captured titles in two different weight classes within a year! The other, rising through the then stacked LHW ranks to win the title, then proceeding to clear out the division in devastating fashion.
In any sane universe, Jon Jones would be the more intriguing person. If one was to make a movie about a fighter, I don’t think it’s even a fair fight.
Don’t get me wrong, Conor fans. First, I’m one of you. This isn’t a knock on Conor, but Conor is pretty much what you see is what you get, and have been that way from the start (see old interviews and snippets in YouTube. Conor was Conor, is Conor, always will be).
Jones, on the other hand, is a guy I believe we know very little about. We may think we know a lot, after all, he’s been in the headlines quite often, but I think Jon let us in on very little, and most of it completely unintended. But we will get to that.
Conor is the guy you’d go out for drinks with, no doubt. An endless string of puns and punch lines go down very well with a few pints. Not to mention the ladies, right? But all in all, there are no real ups and downs, no surprises.
So why is it then, that the more intriguing guy, not to mention, the one that sticks to his sport and defends his belt, the guy who for the most part “does his job” is the less successful one?
I could say that it has to do with drugs and car accidents, but I think this is not the reason. No, I think the difference is manipulation. And I mean that in the most positive of ways.
If we look at Conor’s story, we see a guy who went in a direct line from a new signee, to contender, to champion. A little hitch in the first Diaz fight, then back to ascension. And though, I won’t claim his title shots weren’t earned through competition and achievements, I will say that his goals were met (and likely exceeded) in no small part, by manipulating fans, media and UFC at the same time. By goals (for clarity) I mean more than the belts. I include the big bucks, and from what I understand, the upcoming movie and likely plenty more spin off benefits. And GOOD for him! This isn’t a socialist manifesto.
Jon Jones, on the other hand – and this is where I see the big gap – was manipulated by effects of the success he experienced. Of course, Jones does not have the amount of natural charisma and self-confidence that Conor does, but he made it by himself to that starting point, from which there really could’ve been no limit to what he could achieve. When he reached it, though, instead of taking command of the situation, like Conor (who he looks up to), he let the circumstances (read: people around him, his ego and who knows what else) manipulate him so badly he strayed far from the path. Is it too far for him to make it right? We will know with time, but he can only blame himself.
I’m not the only one of course, to notice that. It seems like these days, there’s a formula for success in this business and it involves social media and other media. No wonder then, that guys like Ferguson, who were never overly chatty, increase their awareness to the strengths of social media and try to emulate (if not embarrassingly imitate) Conor’s blueprint.
The problem is… if you’re not Conor, it’s very difficult to be Conor-like. I cringe every time some Tom, Dick or Harry grabs the mic after a successful fight and tries to “cut a promo”.
I guess, like in so many other lines of business, some of us have it. Some of us don’t. We need to be able to use what we have and learn what we can.
But the bottom line of this post is that, regardless of how success is achieved in MMA, it seems like manipulation has to be part of your arsenal.

Is that a good thing?

A bad thing?

This is a subject for future (and some past) posts. But feel free to put in your 2 cents (or more).


Fixing MMA – Part Three

I started this series with a fairly clear idea of what needs to be fixed, you can see the first part here and the second one here. I also made a couple of suggestions. Well, these were the “easier” fixes.
Today I want to open up a discussion about the two biggies. I’m not sure myself how to “fix” these, but I do intend to throw a solution or two. Perhaps it can open things up for an interesting discussion. Since these two items are big in and of themselves, and since they are inter-connected, I will start touching them on this post, and likely continue with a follow-up. Many many words…

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UFC 207 AfterMMAth (New Years Resolutions)

2015 ended with a BANG, so 2016 decided it wants one too.
2015 ended on the heels of Holm’s shocking knockout of Ronda Rousey, so 2016 decided to put an exclamation point on that too.
See folks, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Or do they?
Let’s run down the predictions for this impactful card first, then discuss some more.

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UFC 207 – Predictions

I was so pumped for UFC207… Then they go and take out my personal main event in Velasquez Vs. Werdum…
Still. Ronda Rousey doesn’t return from a year+ hiatus every month, now does she? and don’t get me started on Cruz Vs. Garbrandt… Still more than worth it!
Now let’s get to picking!
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Fixing MMA – Part One

MMA is an emerging sport, even if it’s a far cry from the obscure, underground kind of cage fighting it was only ten years ago. Even if many people who have no idea what MMA means, know of Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey.
Just think about the legends of some popular sports. NBA, Soccer, Baseball and such. Some of them are long gone, having died of natural causes at an old age.
Contrary to these, the majority of MMA legends are able to raise new families, should they choose to do so.
So why – you might ask – should we fix a sport that is just breaking out of its shell? And is it even broken, to begin with?

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The answers to these questions are “So it grows to be a healthy and responsible adult.” And “Not really, it just needs some guidance like any adolescent.” Respectively.
Having said that, there is quite a bit of work to do, if we (MMA fans, present and future) want to enjoy it for years to come.
In this short series of posts, I’d like to offer my perspective on what could be done to push the sport in the right direction.
First and foremost – I hope you’d agree – is the fighter’s health and safety.
A lot is done already, whether via the rules of the fight or through substance control imposed on fighters, in order to make this sport as safe as can be. The fighters assume certain risks, to be sure, but it is fairly evident that it is as safe as say, Hockey or American football (if not more in some ways).
What I’m offering is adding a couple of safe guards.
The first thing I suggest is the addition of 3 more weight classes to the men and one more for women. There are big gaps between the middle weight tiers, namely between welterweight, Middleweight, Light Heavyweight and Heavyweight.
Adding 177 lb, 195 lb and 215 lb classes will achieve two goals (also 145 lb for the ladies).
1. Allow people of borderline “walking weight” to make weight easily and without taxing their bodies more than really necessary for a sport. And mind you, this is a sport after all. Not life and death.
2. Allow those small middle weights, large light-heavyweights etc. to find a home where they can be more competitive and not be at a constant disadvantage due to being too small for class A, but too heavy for the one under. Examples? Kelving Gastelum, Johny Hendricks, Charles Oliveira to name a few.
Another thing I think should be done is limit the allowed weight cut. Consult with nutritionists and other experts and come up with a certain “walking weight” that corresponds with the relevant minimum weight class. No one expects Roy Nelson to fight at Welterweight, right? How about Middleweight? What is too much weight cut? Let’s not find the answer out when a fighter suffers severe injury or god forbid more. Let’s make sure that no one even attempts to cut enough weight to risk more than is reasonable. You will hear me say that again and again – this is sport. People should not die for entertainment value or even for greatness (in whose eyes?).
I hope that makes sense, and if not, would absolutely love to hear what your thoughts are regarding fighter’s safety.
Are there more things that could (should) be done to protect the people we love to watch?