The Brown Pride Tattoo
Last week I wrote a response to BloodyElbow article "Why the UFC Is Playing the Race Card With Brock Lesnar vs Cain Velasquez". The article was one of many in the MMA blogosphere that proposed that Cain Velasquez was not a very marketable fighter and that a win over Brock Lesnar could only hurt UFC business.
There’s no doubt that Brock Lesnar is one of the biggest moneymakers for the UFC. He has the backing of the prowrestling crowd and the ability to sell himself better then most in the UFC. Even the so-called hardcore fans, who usually despise Lesnar, (probably because of his past as a WWE employee) are drawn to his fights hoping to see him lose. But, in a sport where a loss can amount to having your bloodied and unconscious face replayed on sportscenter over and over…a loss can definitely hurt your drawing power (just ask Chuck Liddell).
So, there might be something to the argument that a big win for Velasquez would mean a big loss for the UFC. …Maybe. I, myself, am not convinced.
In my post earlier, I talked about the drawing power of Velasquez and the chance that, if marketed correctly, he could help the UFC capture some of the Mexican boxing fanbase. Velasquez’s brown pride tattoo and his fluency in Spanish might make him a big star, maybe even bigger then Lesnar if he can defend his title a few times. Needless to say – I thought the UFC was right on the money by marketing Velasquez as the “first Mexican heavyweight champion”! In fact, I thought this was some of the best UFC marketing in a long time. I was tired of the bored – humble champion versus bad boy contender routine.
So, when I started reading more from the MMA blogosphere about Velasquez and the UFCs marketing going into UFC 121, I was quite surprised to find upset writers and fans.
I read, for example, Anthony Pace’s “UFC 121 Preview: UFC Likely Prefers Brock Lesnar Defeats Cain Velasquez” which described the UFC’s marketing as “hokey”.
Pace explains that the UFC’s attempt to market Valesques “reeks of being a desperate contingency plan. Obviously, the UFC would love to tap into the massive, rabid contingent of Hispanic fight fans that have so often been the last thing propping up boxing. But I guarantee that 90% of the households purchasing Latin Fury pay-per-views would sooner think "Cain Velasquez" is the name of a distant relative rather than one of the top fighters in MMA.”
Others, like Zack Arnold (from Fight Opinion) asked if the UFCs marketing was a blessing or a curse; “Does all the “Brown Pride” talk and “first Mexican heavyweight champion” marketing turn off white UFC fans or is it a matter where white fans largely don’t care one way or the other about this?”
Arnold went on to question the UFC’s narrative based on Velasquez’s birthplace;
“They’ve marketed this fight as Cain’s chance to become “the first Mexican Heavyweight champion” despite the fact that he was born in Salinas, California”
I was quite confused by the reactions to the UFCs marketing. I wrote a response to BloodyElbow’s article and received some disturbing news from KidNate himself who told me about the racist commentary they had seen in response to their own articles;
“I know from watching the responses of Bloody Elbow readers to Cain Velasquez' "Brown Pride" tattoo that the focus on his heritage is upsetting and confusing to a lot of MMA fans.”
I took a look at some of the comments myself article and, unfortunately, my enthusiasm for the UFC 121 pay-per-view was quickly replaced by disgust.
Velasquez’s Brown Pride tattoo and the UFC’s targeted marked was inciting a lot of racist responses. Some had commented that the UFC’s marketing and Velasquez’s tattoo were examples of a larger double standard that allowed black and brown peoples to celebrate their races in ways that white people could not. Some even suggested that his tattoo was “unfair” because a white fighter who wore a “white pride” tattoo would probably be ostracized from his employer instead of receiving a marking push and a title shot.
Of course, this comment displaces the “white pride” label from its historical context – we all know that the “white pride” label has been taken up in western culture in a way that “brown pride” has not. The former is clearly not equivalent to the latter and thus there is no double standard here.
Now, I do not want to suggest that the same racist ideas informed comments from Pace or any other journalist. But I do find it … “upsetting” that fans/journalists were so bored by Velasquez and the UFCs storytelling.
The UFC marketing was an attempt to attract a large Latino fan base over from boxing, it told the unique story of Velasquez’s humble beginnings (I loved hearing from Cain’s father – in fact I think a strong cast of supporting characters if what makes 24/7 and PRIMETIME great) and his win over Lesnar last night means that the UFC were on point.
If they had continued to market Lesnar and ignored his undefeated challenger, Cain’s win would have only hurt. But, because the UFC took the route they did, Cain could grow into a star with drawing power that might even parallel Lesnars someday. Theres nothing desperate or hokey about that. Its just good business, and for once, it was an interesting story from the UFC about a great heavyweight whose proud of his heritage.