Ultimate Fighting Championship (What’s In A Name?)

In 2002 the World Wrestling Federation (A.K.A WWF) lost the court case, and the ensuing appeals to the cute pandas and had to re-invent itself. True, It was a change of one letter, which doesn’t sound like much, but I’d like to point out a couple of things that followed very closely:
The F (for “Federation”) became an E (for “Entertainment”)
The “wrestlers/Fighters” became “Superstars
The female “wrestlers/Fighters” became “Divas
Notice the significance? Not only did Vince McMahon change the name of this organization, but the terminology and jargon. That was done, in accordance with the fact that this promotion is in fact an Entertainment business, with superstars and divas as… well… stars.
The pro-wrestling terms “Mark” (coming from the carnival days – the mark of a deception/trick etc. a person “buying” the act) and “Smark” (“smart mark”, a guy who knew the whole thing is staged) quickly disappeared, and everyone began to openly discuss the “entertainment” aspect of the business as the factor directing it.
When Brock Lesnar joined the UFC in 2008, the majority of the MMA fanbase – pardon my French – lost their shit.
Get back to fake wrestling!” was the sentiment. “We don’t need your WWE $h!t!
See, MMA fans became ones because they wanted to see real competition between skilled fighters who actually used the different martial arts to prove superiority.

Fast forward to present day (Mid 2017 more or less):

The “Biggest fight in combat sport history” is between a Mixed Martial Artist and a retired Boxing legend.
The next biggest fight according to general fans vocal opinion – a 3rd encounter between two fighters who never seemed to have anything to prove to each other. Well, other than who can back his trash-talk better.
Already scheduled is a fight between current MW champion, Michael Bisping (who to this day defended his belt against a 45 year old almost retired legend and another 40 year old legend who came back from a horrible injury) and the legendary WW champion and all-time best – Georges St. Pierre (who is coming back from a 4 year break).
When some of us MMA fans pointed out that the direction UFC is heading in is far from where we think they should, we were met with a cold shower of responses “educating” us about the business.
Conor makes a gazillion in a month”, “No one wants to watch Demetrious Johnson win another fight”, “Bisping doesn’t sell PPVs” and so on and so forth.
During the last couple of years, UFC (for the most part) went through a very significant transformation.
From the leading MMA promotion, attracting the best talent in order to provide consistently improving level of competition, thus becoming more popular, what we see now is an organization obsessed with making money in any way possible.
Fights are booked – so it seems – more frequently based on crowd demands and less on achievements or reason.
Fighters (seeing where the wind blows) understandably increase their “PR” or “Promo” work to get ahead.
I don’t know about you, but it really is starting to look like more of an “entertainment” business than a fighter’s promotion.

Which brings me back to 2008.

What happens is that the very same people who were ready to go after Brock Lesnar with tourches and pitchforks, chasing him back to his “WWE $h!t”, are now criticizing others for showing their dismay with this direction of entertainment first and sports/competition/MMA later.
As I wrote in various forums, for me, “This fight won’t make as much money as the other” is not a satisfactory reason. Call me crazy, but I still like MMA because I love watching two skilled individuals test themselves against each other. I know…

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Shut up already! You’re going to watch anyway!” Sure I will (Read my confession), what else is there to do? But I do think we deserve a more level headed approach. One where the important business decisions take more than just the bottom line into account.
Let WWE lead with “fake feuds” and “promos” and let’s focus on what we’re here to do. Sure, color your fights with whatever “background” and there’s always some trash-talking to do. But this is martial arts we’re here to watch and I, for one, still remember that it’s about respect. Respect for one’s self, for the arts and for the fans. What can I say?
When it comes to MMA I’m a “mark”.


Fixing MMA – Part Five

In order to get the full context of this post, I recommend going through Parts 1 through 4 (Links at the end of this one), though it isn’t mandatory. In any case, I’d appreciate the read, and who knows? Perhaps the discussion to follow…
So far, when we spoke about “Fixing MMA” we focused on UFC, being the biggest promotion and all that. Today, I’d like to dedicate a post to the second best… Bellator.
In the past week, leading up to UFC208, there was an article written about how fans begin to compare UFC cards to a Bellator one (see bottom of the post). How amusing… Yes, a single Bellator event MAY be considered a better offering than a single UFC card. But come on folks… consistently speaking, you have got to be kidding me.
Bellator MMA earned this title (second best) by being generally sub-par in every aspect, especially in roster.
I know there’s no room for comparison between the two organizations with regards to financial strength, and that this is a big factor in UFC’s relative success. That is why I will stay away from the roster issue.

I will focus instead, on three things:

Production values:
Hey, Bellator! Eric Bischoff’s called. He wants “Monday Nitro” back.
The pro-werstling promotion WCW had a strong financial backing and was able to seduce BIG stars away from the – then – WWF. They ripped off the original product, interfered with its rating and experienced great success, to the extent of beating the dinosaur and eventually forcing it to just buy them out.

wcw_nitro_logo_live

That won’t happen for Bellator. They are not even close. They don’t have Uncle Ted paying for their shows, and they don’t live in the 90s. All these ridiculous walk in videos, circa 1999 WWF are really weak. The atmosphere is amateurish at best. The broadcast looks cheap and it radiates. It creates the cheap feel…
My recommendation, therefore, and considering that money is an issue – keep it simpler. Tone down the fireworks and present a sports-like event. What can this be driving? We will discuss in item #2 on our to-do list.
Marketing:
UFC is bigger, stronger, more recognized. But UFC also makes mistakes and does things in certain ways. What could contribute to Bellator’s marketing and branding more than taking the very things UFC struggles with, and doing them right with what they have?
Example.
UFC cater (at least recently) mostly to “fan fantasy”? Let Bellator instill a ranking system and schedule fights in a real competition based booking. Separate yourself from the competitor and you can – at the very least – say “We do things right”. We are promoting a sport.
But this is more than a sport.
True that. So let’s say good-bye to fighters that should really retire, and give more airtime to the up and comers. The fighters who have something to prove. That money we saved on fireworks? Let’s use it to build these guys up. Perhaps hand out some bonuses…
I’m certain that there are fighters on the UFC roster, who may feel they have a better shot at making a name for themselves in a place that doesn’t constantly book “money fights”. An organization that recognizes their skill and hard work, even if their tongues aren’t as slick as others’.
The people in front of the camera and behind the microphone:
And finally, for the love of GSP… let’s replace pretty much everybody on-screen and behind the microphone. Really… it’s simply embarrassing at times to watch and listen to Bellator’s events.
From the ring announcing (Hey, It’s 2017, not 1937) through the play-by-play (Sorry, I thought there actually was one…) and all the way to the color commentating (Jerry Lawler is more tolerable).
Watching a Bellator fight starts with the old-fashioned introductions, with as much enthusiasm as the secretary at the dentist calling the next patient. It continues with the person who’s supposed to call the fight, talking about Bellator, the next event and anything else really, instead of focusing on the action taking place in the cage right now. And instead of the professional next to him giving us fans some real insights into what the fighters are doing (or supposed to be doing), we hear mostly drivel and hype… And I thought Joe Rogan is bad…
This is the face of your organization. Make it pretty, make it smart, and make it professional. If you’re looking for a real play-by-play guy, I know a guy. His name rhymes with Spike foldberg. You just signed a really smart MMA fighter called Rory, you signed Chael Sonnen, and Benson Henderson knows a thing or two about MMA. Let them step in and provide commentary. Or just hire a retired fighter who still feels the fire. Sticking with the motley crew you currently have will never raise the bar.
Will all of the above provide an equalizer? Absolutely not.
What can it do to help? It can raise the promotion’s value in the eyes of both fans, as well as – wait for it….. – Potential investors. Go find your uncle Ted. Then, with Uncle Ted’s money you can start planning the storming of the castle.
What do you think?
What is Bellator doing well?
Where can they improve?

Here are the links to:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
MMAFighting about UFC and Bellator cards