In this ‘entertainment era’ of the UFC we see fighters become stars purely down to the way they are marketed in promotional material. An event trailer or poster can do a lot for the narrative that the promoter wants to get across to the audience.
Right now the UFC’s focus is on ratings and delivering a product that is the most attractive to potential investors and networks. So what do they do? Push the most famous and palatable athletes into the championship picture and down-play fighters that do not serve their agenda.
For example, Conor McGregor had an Irish fan following when entering the UFC. With every fight his fame increased, as a result he shot up the rankings more quickly than someone without his charisma.
The UFC favoured GSP vs Bisping over Woodley vs Demian Maia for this reason. Woodley was defending his belt against the number one contender but that didn’t get anywhere near the marketing that GSP’s return did. This was because GSP, despite being unranked at middleweight, was the biggest pay per view draw. He wasn’t even ranked at middleweight and was coming off a four year layoff.
Nevertheless, the UFC do not look as fondly on Woodley because he fights his contenders instead of looking for superfights with bigger names. They want people to win the belt and then begin targeting the one in the next weight up or a returning legend.
Khabib Nurmagomedov has seen a new kind of success recently, as a result of this trend. Khabib ‘The Eagle’ is the LeBron James of MMA. Total domination inside HIS octagon. Never lost a match, a round, or even an exchange. However, fans are only just starting to notice him and this is all down to marketing.
We see stars being made when the company needs them. Conor has been out of action for a long time and will be for a good while longer after the bus incident. In the meantime the UFC have made Khabib and Tony a bigger focus. Before Tony got injured they tried to book a fight between them for the lightweight belt. The winner would be the new chosen.
The fight almost fell through and went through various iterations on route to UFC 223. The one constant, was Khabib. He didn’t know who would end up fighting on April 7th, be it Holloway; Iaquinta; Pettis or Felder. He didn’t particularly care either, he would get in and fight regardless.
Dana and the fans love the ‘anyone, anytime any place’ mentality. The company definitely love a safe pair of hands that will fight regardless of an opponent change to save the card. UFC 223 has earned Khabib a bigger push no doubt; expect his star to shine even brighter in the future.