Taking a look at the current list of UFC Champions, we have ourselves (arguably) the best of the best in their weight divisions. But in this current era of The Ultimate Fighting Championship, it seems as if that mass appeal simply is not there.
During this week’s ‘Holy Smokes’ podcast, Sean Ross Sapp and I discussed why some of the UFC’s events have had lower than normal ratings, while some show spikes in viewership. We also discussed why Bellator MMA had some spikes in their ratings (no pun intended) yet seems to have fallen back to lower numbers.
Throughout my years in MMA, I’ve picked up the odd analogy here and there and one that has always remained entrenched in me, was that there is a specific science to fan appeal. Sort of a recipe where you sprinkle some of this and some of that, to get an expected star to breakthrough.
Fans and pundits generally want to relate to a fighter who at the very least has something in common with them or perhaps sticks out from the rest. A charismatic or controversial figure goes a long way. In essence, fighters need to be loved or hated to be known and appreciated / despised.
Another thing most fans appreciate are champions. When champions fight, their bout is one that is worth watching because it means something. There are implications, win or lose. The same can be said about top contender fights. These are match-ups that have divisional implications and are not simply two athletes being matched up for the sake of filling up a card.
Look at any of the major sports in North America (or globally) and you will see that the most viewed games and events are because there is something at stake, larger than just your regular win. Every day games are great, but as stick and ball sports get closer to ‘playoff’ time, the stakes increase and viewership numbers begin to grow.
When the playoffs start, viewers and fans become invested in their team or the overall product and once it gets to the finals, where a championship is at stake, the numbers generally peak. Why? History is about to be written. The game means something. It’s worth watching. It’s worth spending time away from the daily grind and to witness real entertainment.
In MMA, we are inundated with a massive amount of what the casual (even hardcore) fan deems is irrelevant. Fights that have no real bearing on the division. Now, if the promotion would showcase why “this fight” is worth watching, with a road map of where the winner will go, I believe the game will change.
As silly as it may sound, this is why the tournament format has always been great for MMA. Look at the old Pride shows. The early UFC shows. Heck, even the Bellator shows. Each and every bout meant something. Who would advance? Who would falter? One look at March Madness, the FIFA World Cup or stick and ball tournament brackets and you will see why the tournament format is a fan favourite.
While I’ve been saying it for years, I’m still surprised how and why the UFC and Bellator MMA do not use this format to build their stars. Why they rely on a fighter catching lightning in a bottle (i.e. Conor McGregor, Ronda Rousey, GSP, etc), is beyond me.
The wheel was invented years ago. The format has been successful for generations in other sports. It has always worked great for MMA. With eleven weight classes, the amount of promotion the tournament fighters would get ever show and online would be great for them and for the promotion / sport.
I could go deeper into this, and maybe I will one day, but when I speak with the main stream fan nowaday, they are lucky if they can name two UFC champions. Would it not be nicer if they could not only name almost every champion and at least one or two contenders per weight class? If that was the case, imagine how big the sport would truly be?
Photo courtesy of Bellator MMA