Once upon a time, the UFC’s biggest competitor hosted their biggest show ever at Madison Square Garden and here’s a full list of the people who actually give a shit:
It’s not entirely Bellator’s fault no one had their MSG PPV on their radar, though. With the McGregor/Mayweather bout having become official at the time, the sudden resurgence of boxing on the PPV front, and the UFC creating a new interim title seemingly every day, it’s only reasonable that the No. 2 MMA promotion in the States would get placed on the pop culture backburner.
And that’s pretty much the problem facing every non-UFC promotion nowadays. The brand has become so massive that it pretty much owns the MMA sphere of influence. Considering the size of the UFC roster and the enormity of its TV deals, unless some huge money mark like Mark Cuban comes along to steal away some PPV headliners and secure a rival network television deal, NO mixed martial arts organizations are realistically capable of financially competing with the UFC. Indeed, at this point, trying to compete with the UFC is like trying to go head-to-head with the NFL or the IRS – you KNOW you ain’t going to win and the best you can hope for is to break even.
But, for a moment, let’s say Bellator or the Professional Fighters League (it used to be called the World Series of Fighting, in case you’ve never heard of it) or Rizin said “you know what, we can’t compete with the UFC in terms of overall quality or quantity, but what if we decided to take some REALLY big gambles on things the UFC wouldn’t try in a million years?”
It’s like being in the independent film industry. You don’t have a billion dollars to make a movie and you ain’t going to get Angelina Jolie to flash her jugs for just $25,000, so instead, you’ve got to be creative. You have to come up with a novel concept for a movie, one that’s shocking and countercultural and controversial. You have to offer audiences stuff they can’t see at their local cineplex, like up-close genital shots or actual Faces of Death-type footage. Think about the old Bumfights series – the entire budget was about $100 yet the brand ended up being sold for more than $1 million. Why? Because the producers of those movies did something nobody in the “mainstream” had the chutzpah to make … and MMA operators could certainly learn a thing or two from their success.
Take heed, upstart MMA promotions … if you want people talking about your new organization, here are ten sure-fire ways to get the publicity machine a-whirrin’…
One Night Tourneys and Grand Prix Events!
Who doesn’t miss the old school UFC tournament format? You get eight guys, a couple of alternates and over the course of one night, they beat the hell out of each other until some dude manages to best at least three other men in battle. It’s intrinsically compelling and dramatic, and judging from the plot of 2011’s Warrior, that’s STILL how Hollywood thinks this shit operates, anyway. I’m guessing the new unified rules probably frown upon the idea of concussion-addled fighters putting in upwards of 45 minutes of fight time a night, though, but that still wouldn’t stop promotions from putting together multi-night, multi-event grand prix tourneys a’la Pride and Dream (and, to a much, much lesser extent, Strikeforce.) The playoffs are big-time money makers in every other sport, so why shouldn’t they be revenue-generators in MMA, too?
Tag Team Matches!
As much as MMA purists may hate it, it’s undeniable that the sport has taken a LOT of cues from the world of pro wrestling. And since tag team matches have been a staple of ‘rasslin for more than a century, isn’t it about time MMA promotions likewise made two-on-two bouts a part of standard operating procedures? Believe it or not, this actually has been attempted, most notably in the appropriately named Double Fighting outfit in Brazil. The options are limitless here. We can do it traditional style, Texas Tornado or – for those who REALLY like them some spectacles – five-on-five elimination marathons. Although, perhaps with a little less tires and bullrope as depicted here…
Divisions People ACTUALLY Want to See!
The problem with the UFC is that they keep introducing smaller weight classes. Hoo boy, who DOESN’T want to watch a men’s 115 pound division, or a women’s 95-pound weight class? That’s right, every last one of us. How about putting an emphasis on the SUPER HEAVYWEIGHT DIVISION, or even better, developing a 220-pound Cruiserweight Division in-between the Light Heavyweight and Heavyweight fray instead? Hell, I’ll settle for something in-between the Welterweight and Middleweight divisions, if it comes down to it – maybe even something between Lightweight and Welterweight, for Christ’s sake.
Vale Tudo Championships!
Or, even better, why not create a division totally devoid of weight restrictions? That’s right, MMA today is sorely lacking in openweight tomfoolery, and to sweeten the proverbial pot, promoters could also make it vale tudo rules, too! To hell with the unified rules, we want to see soccer kicks to downed opponent’s faces, eyeball clawing and – of course – a torrent of Keith Hackney-esque testicle punches. Granted, most of this stuff is probably illegal nowadays and would leave promoters liable for some heavy “wrongful death” litigation, but come on – you KNOW you’d pay good money to watch THIS over and over again.
The PGA senior circuit still draws a lot of money, so why wouldn’t people pay gobs of moolah to watch a bunch of MMA wash-ups duke it out for supplemental income? Sure, sure, you could scout around for hot up-and-coming talent, OR you can just go knock on Ken Shamrock’s R.V., promise to hook him up with some clean urine and book him against Bob Sapp on one week’s notice. I can’t be the only one out there wondering what happened to that tall kickboxer dude at UFC 1 who gave four Hitler salutes as soon as he stepped in the cage, or how Jon Hess’ Scientifically Aggressive Fighting Technology of America (S.A.F.T.A.) skills have improved over the last 25 years. And even as a complete larf, I will never – I repeat, never – turn down an opportunity to see Don Frye or Tank Abbott do anything for money.
Freakshow Fights and Celebrity MMA!
Circus fights are every bit as important to MMA as heel hooks and omoplatas, and I reckon there’s a LOT of money to be made out there pending somebody knew how to properly exploit … I mean, adequately market them. Beyond the fact you’re violating athletics commission rules and setting yourself up for costly fines, lawsuits and jail time, what’ so bad about booking your top stars against 7 foot tall freaks of nature with no formal MMA experience, or putting on bouts in which the weight differential is a good 300 pounds? That, and I’ve always been flummoxed by the UFC’s willful refusal to put on celebrity contests (anybody recall that Joe Rogan vs. Wesley Snipes mega-bout that never came to fruition?) Sorry, WME, but if people are willing to pay to watch Joey Buttafuoco pummel Chyna like Talia Shire in The Godfather, they sure as shit would whip out their credit cards to see C.M. Punk tussle with the Green Power Ranger.
You kids ever hear of something called Sando? Basically, it’s the MMA we’re all familiar with, except instead of having just two dudes beating the holy hell out of each other, it involves three men simultaneously trying to concuss each other with their fists and feet. Granted, it’s not the easiest MMA variation to follow, but once you see the stuff in action, you’ll grasp the possibilities therein. Hey, if it works in pro ‘rasslin, it’s bound to work everywhere else in life … just ask President Donald J. Trump!
Get Rid of the Cage!
For almost 30 years, MMA has been confined to either the cage or the boxing ring. Despite some companies trying to shake things up (the infamous YAMMA pit immediately springs to mind), perhaps it is long past time somebody expanded the sport’s battlefield. Even Joe Rogan has publicly advocated for the elimination of the Octagon, instead suggesting fighters compete on basketball-court sized platforms sans any kind of artificial barriers. Which, yeah, isn’t as cool as fighting on that pagoda thing from The Karate Kid Part II, but still kinda’ of an awesome idea.
The absolute best thing the WWE does every year is the Royal Rumble. Thirty dudes, coming in at one minute intervals, all trying to throw each other’s asses over the top rope for 90 minutes – it’s pretty much a transcendent artform. Well, just for the LULZ, can anyone give me a single reason to not put together a special attraction, 30 man over-the-top MMA slugfest? Just fill that cage up with manmeat and let ‘em rip each other apart until only one of them remains standing. Granted, it may take a little bit longer than the average MMA bout to declare a winner, but let’s face it – watching gassed lardasses try to push one another out of a giant dog kennel is infinitely more entertaining than watching Jon Fitch or Jake Shields do anything.
Talk about a blow for women’s equality! For years, the sports world has had plenty of guffaws on behalf of the women folks, like that time the Williams sisters got destroyed by the world’s 203rd ranked male tennis player in back-to-back games in 1998, or earlier this year, when the U.S Women’s National Soccer Team (the reigning, defending all-ovaries World Cup holders, by the way) lost 5-2 to a team comprised solely of 15-year-old boys. Well, this’ll show the patriarchy what-for! Let’s see the world’s best women MMA competitors square off against the world’s best men MMA competitors and put all that sexist nonsense to bed once and for all. You just know there’s a low-rent promoter out there that likewise believes women deserve equal rights in the MMA world … and come to think of it, a few equal lefts, while they’re at it.
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