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Fighting the bigger battle: Art of promotion

Today, we take a closer look at the art of promoting a fight and building future stars, and its long term implications in the fight business

Dana is arguably the top promoter in the world today

Every fan wants to see an upset; it is now almost a norm to expect the improbable.

When Fury dominated Klitschko, or when Holly Holm dethroned the queen of MMA – Ronda Rousey, with both ironically happening in the same month, the ardent combat sports fans were thrilled. After all, the greatest story is written when an underdog overcomes the obstacles and wins the battle – your typical Cinderella story.

However, the fight also depends upon the difference in techniques – the versatility, finesse, and panache of the two fighters. It isn’t uncommon for a relatively younger underdog, who technically is equal to a more seasoned fighter to clinch the fight.

However, that is not something that happens regularly, and in the biggest of organizations, it is not something that makes sense financially.

The bookers and promoters have for long been pushed to the back by the fans. While the focus and eyes are on the fighters, the true groundwork is laid by the matchmakers and promoters, who take various elements into consideration before booking a fight.

One look at UFC’s new talent pool, led by the relatively new Sage Northcutt and Paige VanZant explains the significance of matchmaking and promoting talent.

A more comprehensive analysis can perhaps be better explained with the Holly Holm – Ronda Rousey match up at UFC 193.

Two world class athletes, each unparalleled at their respective fighting style; when the match was initially announced, everyone thought it would be a walk in the park for Ronda Rousey, even with Holly’s pedigree in boxing. But why did most of the fans believe that Ronda was going to emerge victorious? The answer to that is the amount of time spent promoting Ronda.

Yes, Ronda Rousey is a unique talent; arguably the most well-rounded fighter in the division (we’ll get back to her stand-up game in a while). But what made her the marquee name in the company has been the way she has been promoted, and the fights she was given till last year.

Prior to Holly, Ronda fought Bethe Correia – a stand up fighter who, with due respect, had just about the same stand up game as Ronda. Holly was a completely different animal, and is an elite kick boxer.

One can also argue that the fight was eerily similar to Buster Douglas – Mike Tyson encounter in ’90; the opponent, focused and well trained, while the champion, undefeated and arguably, unprepared.

After the fight, Dana scoffed about the remarks leading up to the fight, and reminded everyone that there was a reason the company has matchmakers. However, one cannot help but feel that Paige VanZant, who was being protected, was thrown into the deep waters relatively early in her career.

It is important to build future stars, something UFC has done with Sage Northcutt and Paige VanZant

VanZant was supposed to face Joanne Calderwood in December, but with Joanne pulling out of the fight, UFC replaced her with Rose Namajunas.

Stylistically, the fight made perfect sense, but for the more experienced eyes, it was quite obvious that Rose Namajunas wouldn’t just expose the holes in VanZant’s game, but would also outclass her. A better suited opponent for Paige would have been Randa Markos, and Dana White will not repeat the same mistake with Sage Northcutt.

The new breed of fighters is important for the UFC. Although the change in the old guard is almost complete (except for Demetrious Johnson’s tenacious stranglehold over the flyweight division), the promoters need to ensure the creation of future stars, along with the present ones.

Another prime example, for the more casual Indian fans, has been the booking of Vijender Singh in his first few professional fights.

Every promoter needs to be a little selfish – doesn’t mean that one of the fighters needs to be outclassed, but at least in the first few fights, give the young prospect a relatively easy outing.

This is where Dana has been careful with Sage Northcutt. While most of the other fighters have raised questions over the ridiculously exorbitant amount Dana has given to Sage –who has only fought twice on the prelims card – it is all but a long term investment – something every promoter does.

With CM Punk expected to debut this year, Dana has potentially zeroed in on his opponent. A lot of fighters have questioned UFC’s signing of Punk, and believe that it is a slap on the face of the fighters who’ve had to fight for a decade to get into the UFC.

However, the fact that Punk can easily become UFC’s biggest draw is good enough reason for the Fertittas and Dana to bring Punk to the organization. At the end of the day, a promoter needs to draw good money, and while the art of promoting can be a double edged sword, that is where UFC has historically fared better than any other organization.

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