5 UFC fighters who have mastered the art of selling a fight
The UFC is all about finding out who the best fighters in the world are. But at its heart, it is also classic prize-fighting, and is essentially about who can get the most people to watch their fights.
Some of the UFC’s top fighters clearly understand that the art of selling a fight is just as important as actually having fighting skills inside the octagon, and have used that art to the best of their ability.
While trash-talk has been around for years now, sometimes selling a fight doesn’t simply involve antagonising an opponent. Former UFC welterweight king Georges St-Pierre, for instance, was always respectful – but sold his fights on the premise that each of his opponents would be his toughest.
On that note, here's a look at five UFC fighters who have mastered the art of selling a fight.
#5 Conor McGregor – former UFC featherweight & lightweight champion
The proof that Conor McGregor knows exactly how to sell a fight can be seen by the fact that every time he steps into the octagon, millions of people are willing to part with their money to see it.
‘The Notorious’ has headlined the top five best-selling pay-per-views in UFC history, drawing untold millions of dollars for both himself and the UFC. His fights with the likes of Dustin Poirier, Nate Diaz and Khabib Nurmagomedov are all part of the UFC’s overarching narrative.
The brash Irishman showed he wasn’t afraid to ruffle feathers from the moment he arrived in the UFC in 2013, as he began to talk trash about practically the whole featherweight roster. However, the key for McGregor was that most of his trash-talk centred on himself.
This meant that not only did fans begin to recognise him as a superstar – or a potential one – but also that his name was seemingly never far away from the lips of his possible UFC rivals. At that stage, everyone wanted to fight Conor McGregor.
And it’s also worth noting that while he now comes across as bitter at times, McGregor’s trash-talk back then was also very witty. An example of that is his infamous barb at Jeremy Stephens, endearing him to a large portion of the UFC fanbase.
So by the time ‘The Notorious’ had also proven his fighting skills with his wins over Chad Mendes and Jose Aldo – backing up every word – he was every inch the superstar he’d always claimed he would be.
These days, McGregor’s star power has largely transcended the UFC. He could probably draw a million pay-per-view buys against a nothing opponent without even saying a word. But judging on how quickly he turned his rivalry with Dustin Poirier into a personal one, he’s still the king when it comes to knowing exactly how to sell a fight.
#4 Jorge Masvidal
Jorge Masvidal has been around in the world of MMA for a long time. ‘Gamebred’ made his professional debut in 2003, almost two decades ago, and he’s even been in the UFC since 2013. However, while he largely went ignored for many of those years, right now there are few better in the UFC when it comes to selling a fight.
Masvidal was always somewhat of a mid-level trash-talker. But the former street fighter from Miami, Florida clearly changed things up in the sixteen months he had away from the octagon from 2017 to 2019.
When he returned to fight Darren Till, Masvidal had grown out his hair and beard and had begun to wear flashy suits, resembling a cross between a crazed preacher and a high-ranking member of a drug cartel, ala Scarface.
Labelling himself ‘Street Jesus’ and talking about “baptising” his opponents inside the octagon, ‘Gamebred’ immediately drew far more attention than he’d ever done before.
An angry backstage confrontation with Leon Edwards that resembled a clash in a back alley helped to sell his new persona. By the time Masvidal broke the UFC’s fastest knockout record by destroying Ben Askren in just five seconds, the fans were sold.
Masvidal was now a superstar – and since then he has parlayed that into beating Nate Diaz for essentially a personalised championship – the UFC BMF title – and has also talked his way into two UFC welterweight title shots.
While he lost both fights to Kamaru Usman, the fact that he managed to get UFC fans to clamour for the second meeting despite losing the first in one-sided fashion tells you that ‘Gamebred’ is a man who knows exactly how to sell a fight.
#3 Israel Adesanya – UFC middleweight champion
Current UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya is a fascinating case when it comes to selling a fight. ‘The Last Stylebender’ definitely isn’t afraid to talk trash on his opponents, as he turned fights with Paulo Costa and Marvin Vettori into bitter feuds, but he isn’t just a traditional antagonist.
Adesanya has also been able to build an image of a fighter who promises something special every time he steps into the octagon. And more often than not, the Nigerian-born New Zealand-based fighter delivers the goods.
In that sense, he’s similar to former UFC middleweight king Anderson Silva – the man whose footsteps many fans believe Adesanya is currently following. However, Silva – with his poor grasp of English – was never as witty and articulate as ‘The Last Stylebender’.
Many of the barbs that Adesanya has thrown towards his opponents have helped him to sell a fight in the eyes of the fans. Robert Whittaker, for instance, freely admitted that Adesanya’s trash-talk got under his skin leading into their fight at UFC 243.
But like all great sellers of fights, Adesanya isn’t just a one-dimensional trash talker. ‘The Last Stylebender’ also knows when to keep things respectful. The fact that he was so respectful when building his fight with Silva – despite ‘The Spider’ being years past his prime – sold the Brazilian as a threat and meant people were far more excited to see the clash.
All of that adds up to ensure that Adesanya is one of the UFC’s best when it comes to knowing how to sell a fight perfectly.
#2 Colby Covington
Colby Covington might be widely disliked by the majority of the UFC fanbase. But there’s no denying that the former interim UFC welterweight champion knows exactly how to sell a fight.
It wasn’t always that way, as ‘Chaos’ would admit himself. Apparently, he was on the verge of being released in 2017 despite a lengthy win streak, largely due to a perceived dull fighting style inside the octagon.
However, basing himself on an extreme version of former UFC favourite Chael Sonnen – who embraced trash-talking until it shot him to stardom – Covington unleashed a new persona onto the UFC after his victory over Demian Maia.
‘Chaos’ cut an inflammatory and xenophobic promo following the win, slating the entire country of Brazil and its people, labelling them “filthy animals”. It was one of the more controversial moments in UFC history and resulted in Covington effectively having to be smuggled out of the country.
Since then, Covington has been more than happy to embrace his role as a major villain. He has made countless numbers of tasteless remarks that have sometimes verged on outright racism, building himself up as the ultimate follower of Trumpism and the MAGA movement.
While plenty of UFC fans might find his character tiresome, there’s no denying that it has worked. Covington is probably the most widely disliked fighter on the UFC roster, but fans now want to see him beaten, something that’s proven to be rare.
Considering the same, it’s fair to say that ‘Chaos’ is a master when it comes to the art of selling a fight.
#1 Nate Diaz
While his activity levels over the last five years have been sporadic, to say the least, it’s arguable that nobody on the UFC roster can sell a fight quite like Nate Diaz.
Like his brother Nick, Nate Diaz’s devil-may-care attitude instantly endears him to the fans of the UFC. But he also has a unique way of building his fights up, which means he sells them as few others do.
Essentially, Diaz somehow manages to turn nearly every fight he’s involved in into a personal, bitter feud – meaning that the fans are always sucked in whether the fighter from Stockton ends up winning or losing.
This has even been the case when he has fought more mild-mannered, friendly opponents like Donald Cerrone. In that instance, Diaz knocked Cerrone’s cowboy hat off during a weigh-in staredown, transforming what sounded like an exciting fight into a clash that threatened to overshadow UFC 141’s main event of Brock Lesnar vs Alistair Overeem.
The most bizarre thing about Nate Diaz? He doesn’t really try to sell his fights. He doesn’t play a character like Colby Covington, nor does he talk trash in the same way as Conor McGregor does. He simply channels so much anger and bitterness towards his opponents that it’s hard not to be interested.
Essentially, whenever Nate Diaz competes in the UFC, his fights are instantly must-watch affairs – proving that he is a genuine master of selling a fight.