FanPost

Listen Up Scott Coker, You Pencil-Neck Geek, the Three Most Important Letters in MMA are not U-F-C, it’s W-W-E.

This was original intended to be a reply to a couple of the posts in the recent wrestling related articles, but thought it would be more appropriate if such a long-winded response was done as a fanpost instead. If you like brevity, I apologize in advance. I also apologize for any and all grammar errors, and will most likely be editing this in the morning after getting some sleep and recovering from the alcohol that inspired this diatribe in the first place.

I look forward to who me destroying my whole argument. Enjoy.

Hillbillies_medium

via slam.canoe.c

Brent, I see your Hillbilly and raise you two.

Apparently Strikeforce is currently working on a plan to debase our great sport by having a pro wrestler fight for them in a blatant and cyncal attempt to garner ratings. Now I want to make it as clear as possible to Coker, Showtime, and Strikeforce that I have no interest whatsoever in watching Batista fight. None. Unlike Brock Lesnar, or even Bobby Lashley, there is nothing in his background that says he will do anything inside the cage. It is a gimmick and nothing more, and one that is being done for the most shallow of reasons. Coker needs to be made aware that fighters like Batista have nothing to do with why fans like me watch Strikeforce. We watch his promotion to see such world class fighters  (yes, world class) as Jacare, Hendo, Nick Diaz, Melendez, Fedor, Overeem, and Werdum. And if he wants to build his promotion around fans like us, he should remain focused on those fighters and not gimmicks like Batista. And this is exactly why Coker should sign Batista, because if he wants to see any success the fans he should be focusing on are pro wrestling fans.

Now I have to be honest, I really don't know much about modern pro wrestling. Haven't watched a match since Jake the Snake took on Kamala circa 1987 (or was it the Road Warriors versus the Midnight Express?). Never followed it during the Monday Night Wars or when the WWF changed it's name to the WWE. Never heard of the  WCW or ECW or any other W until I started going to mma forums. Didn't even know Golden Gophers star Brock went into pro wrestling until he tried out for the Vikings and the first time I became aware of the name Batista was only a few weeks ago when rumors that he might sign with Strikeforce surfaced. But perhaps because I didn't come to this sport through the WWE like so many others, I am much more aware of the connection than the pro wrestling fans themselves (look at me as the Vladimir Nabokov of MMA). Because if there is one thing I've learned in my years of following mma is that mma fans love themselves some pro wrestling.

Sure they won't admit it, but the truth of the matter is that mma and the UFC are really nothing more than pro wrestling, the pro wrestling wrasslin' fans have been dreaming about their whole life: real pro wrestling. The pro wrestling that used to exist before the Gold Dust Trio and their ilk decided that they would be better off with worked bouts and predetermined outcomes. It's the Slam Bam Western Wrestling fans were promised almost a century ago, finally delivered to us under a couple of fancy new acronyms: MMA and UFC.

It is amazing how many fans refuse to acknowledge this deep seated link between the two, as if they were ashamed of the obvious parallels. There is no reason to feel shame. There is a reason that professional (fake) wrestling has been so popular for all these years and that's because a lot of people found it entertaining. And there is a reason why they found it entertaining - because it’s the kind of sport people wished was real. They wanted a combat sport where "anything goes", something to satisfy our desire to see a true "no holds barred" fight without all the cumbersome rules inflicted on boxing. We mma fans should know that. Hell, a common remark I used to hear from new mma fans was that it was just like pro wrestling if pro wrestling was real. Well, fortunately for us it is like pro wrestling and it is real.

So mma is what pro wrestling pretends to be, but does that mean that you can gain an audience for mma from  pro wrestling? For the answer to that question all we have to do is look at the UFC, who brilliantly used the WWE to springboard themselves into a billion dollar industry, becoming the Kleenax® of the sport. The UFC has experienced four easily demarcated phases of growth during the Zuffa era, and each one has a direct link to pro wrestling.

Abdullah_brody_medium

via www.coliseumwrestlingboxing.com

Recommended future Strikeforce match for CBS.

PHASE 1

Before going into the details of the first upswing the UFC experienced, lets get a sense of where they were when Zuffa purchased the company in early 2001. Here are the payperview numbers for the first seven events: 

Event                Buys

UFC 33            75,000

UFC 34            60,000

UFC 35            35,000

UFC 36            55,000

UFC 37            50,000

UFC 38            45,000

UFC 39            45,000

Average           52,143

A far cry from what they are now. Hell, a far cry from what they were when the UFC first launched and 200,000 payperview buys weren't uncommon. Fortunately for Zuffa they had a savior waiting in the wings, one who would ride in to the rescue beginning with UFC 40:

Event                Buys

UFC 40            150,000

UFC 41            60,000

UFC 42            35,000

UFC 43            49,000

UFC 44            94,000

UFC 45            40,000

UFC 46            77,000

UFC 47            104,000

UFC 48            110,000

UFC 49            80,000

UFC 50            40,000

UFC 51            105,000

Average            78,667

Something had obviously changed starting with UFC 40. That event sold twice their previous high set at UFC 33 and was soon followed by six other shows that surpassed UFC 33's 75,000 payperview sales. The overall average number of payperviews sold between UFC 40-51 surged a whopping 50% compared to 33-39. So what happened? The answer can be boiled down to one name: Ken Shamrock. The original UFC Superfight champion and former WWF and NWA star had returned to the Octagon to fight Tito Ortiz at UFC 40, bringing with him droves of fans, some who remembered him from the first few UFC events but many more now familiar with him in the squared circle under the moniker "The World's Most Dangerous Man".

Ken was instantly the biggest star in the UFC, with his first two appearances (UFC 40 and 48) becoming the two biggest sellers for the young company. But even more importantly, his star power proved to be contagious. After defeating Ken, Tito's payperview sales rose significantly, becoming the only other fighter in the company who could headline 100,000+ payperview cards . And  like a virus, after Randy and Chuck each defeated Tito, they too caught the star bug, as demonstrated by the fact that a Randy vs Chuck headlined UFC 43 sold 49,000, but after Randy beat Tito his next two events (UFC 46 and 49) both sold 80,000 payperviews.

So the lesson to learn from Zuffa is that one fighter, or more specifically one pro wrestling star, can turn around your company.

PHASE II

So what's better than a WWE star? How about the WWE itself? The premiere pro wrestling company would serve as the launchpad for the UFC's prodigious growth over the next two years, when Zuffa was able to finagle a reality show on Spike called The Ultimate Fighter, and even more importantly, got the WWE's Monday Night Raw show to serve as the lead-in. Lets remember where the UFC was at this point: they were barely staying afloat, averaging 80,000 payperview buys a show, with barely a TV presence,  and terrified that the number one mma promotion in the world, Pride FC, was going to start focusing on the US market.  So how important did this new TV deal prove to be for the company? Let's look at the numbers for the next five cards promoted during the first  and second season of TUF:

Event                Buys

UFC 52            280,000

UFC 53            90,000

UFC 54            150,000

UFC 55            125,000

UFC 56            200,000

Average           169,000

Within a few months payperview sales more than doubled as WWE fans discovered the Ultimate Fighter and found that they liked the real thing better than the "performance art" being offered on RAW (their motto was even "As real as it gets", the perfect pitch to the WWE smarks). Vince McMahon noticed this trend as well and tried to stem the bleeding by moving the WWE to the USA network. Little did anyone know that he was doing the UFC a favor, as he effectively handed over the whole Spike channel to his real sport rival. Quickly we were to find the answer to the question, "what's better than having the WWE as a lead-in? The answer: being the WWE. 

PHASE III

It is little secret that the UFC's very business model is based on the WWE. Focus on the brand over individual fighters; run weekly programming (Unleashed and The Ulitmate Fighter) with a cable TV partner to hype up-coming fights; leading up to a monthly payperviw. This is the very template that the WWE used to become an economic powerhouse, and one the UFC imitates to a T.

Many have also noted other similarities, either coincidental or intentional. Ken Shamrock, Tito Ortiz, Chuck Liddell, Tim Sylvia, Andrei Arlovski , any one of them looked as if they'd fit right in on a Wrestlemania card. Those same fighters were also all engaged in rivalries that would offer new fans a captivating storyline.  And the most telling may have been the comparison between Vince McMahon and Dana White, the two public faces for their respected companies. Dana had gone through a transformation from the polite milquetoast President of the new UFC into a foul-mouthed caricature which may or  may not have been modeled on Vince McMahon.

Intentional or not, whatever they were doing was working as the next year, their first with total support from Spike, saw another giant leap forward in sales, peaking with UFC 66:

Event   Buys

UFC 57            400,000

UFC 58            290,000

UFC 59            415,000

UFC 60            615,000

UFC 61            775,000

UFC 62            500,000

UFC 63            400,000

UFC 64            300,000

UFC 65            500,000

UFC 66            1,050,00

Average           524,500

Think how amazing this is, that within two years the UFC went from selling 40,000 payperviews at UFC 50 to over a million at UFC 66. And a big part of that growth could be directedly attributed to marketing themselves to pro wrestling fans. 

What followed next was a cooling off period as the great rivalries of Liddell, Tito, Couture, Arlovski and Sylvia all came to an end. New stars were entering the promotion, but none of them - with the possible exception of Georges St. Pierre - seemed to expand the fanbase. The UFC seemed to have plateaued:

Event                Buys

UFC 67            350,000

UFC 68            540,000

UFC 69            400,000

UFC 71            675,000

UFC 72            200,000

UFC 73            425,000

UFC 74            520,000

UFC 76            450,000

UFC 77            325,000

UFC 78            400,000

UFC 79            600,000

UFC 80            225,000

UFC 81            650,000

UFC 82            325,000

UFC 83            525,000

UFC 84            475,000

UFC 85            225,000

UFC 86            520,000

UFC 87            625,000

UFC 88            640,000

UFC 90            300,000

Average           447,380

While the sales from the beginning of 2007 until the Fall of 2008 remained stagnant there were signs that something big was on the horizon. Look at the top 5 sellers during this period (the only five cards to cross the 600,000 threshold) and see if you can spot the common demoninator. For three of them one of the headliners was Chuck Liddell, by far the UFC's biggest star of this period, who had already proven his drawing power with UFC 66. And the other two 600,000 plus sellers? They both offered former WWE Champion Brock Lesnar.

PHASE IV 

When Brock first fought on UFC 81 the card sold 650,000 payperviews. This is for a card headlined by a title match for the Interim Heavyweight Championship between Tim Sylvia and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. For comparison, the previous two title fights for the actual Heavyweight Championship, UFC 68 and UFC 74, sold 520,000 and 540,000 payperviews respectively. UFC 81 did over 100,000 more than either of those cards, even though it didn't involve the actual title or one of the promotions biggest stars in the sport, Heavyweight Champion Randy Couture. Even more impressive was the Dave Meltzer reported fact that 300,000 of the payperview purchasers were first time buyers of a UFC event.

Brock's next appearance at UFC 87, coming after his loss to Frank Mir tempered some of the excitement,  sold 625,000 payperviews. Of course, Georges St. Pierre probably played a big part in the success of the card, but it is worth noting that this was 100,000 more than GSP's previous fight, where he unified the welterweight belt in a highly anticipated grudge match against Matt Serra. Could Brock actually be drawing that many new fans to the UFC? To add fuel to this debate, lets look at what happened to the payperview numbers for the UFC as soon as Brock got a title match at UFC 91:

Event                  Buys

UFC 91              1,010,000

UFC 92              1,200,000

UFC 93              320,000

UFC 94              800,000

UFC 96              350,000

UFC 97              625,000

UFC 98              635,000

UFC 99              360,000

UFC 100            1,720,000

UFC 101            850,000

UFC 102            435,000

UFC 103            375,000

UFC 104            500,000

UFC 106            375,000

UFC 107            620,000

UFC 108            300,000

UFC 109            275,000

UFC 110            215,000

UFC 111            770,000

UFC 112            500,000

UFC 113            520,000

UFC 114            1,050,000

UFC 115            520,000

UFC 116            1,250,00

Average            648,958

Isn't it an amazing coincidence that as soon as Brock Lesnar fights for the title and wins it,  the UFC sees a huge jump in buys. That a title match between Brock and Randy does nearly twice what Randy's two previous title fights did. Since Zuffa is a privately held company that keeps the purchasing habits and data of their fans close to their vest it's impossible to prove if Brock Lesnar is the overriding reason for this surge. But the circumstantial evidence that Brock has had a huge impact on the overall popularity is pretty convincing:

- Six times the UFC has crossed the 1 million buy mark. 5 of those cards are in the post Brock Championship era.

- Of those five cards, three of them had Brock as the headliner. Those were also Brock's only three appearances during this period.

- The 10 cards before UFC 91 averaged 451,000 buys. This magically jumped to 782,000 for the next 10, starting with his title shot.

- The downturn experienced last winter coincided with the cancellation of Lesnar's title defense against Carwin and the news that he may never fight again after falling ill to diverticulitis.

- this downturn ended roughly at the same time it was officially announced that Brock would fight again some time over the Summer against the winner of Mir/Carwin.

Does any of this prove that Brock should be credited with most of the UFC's recent success? No, but it does raise eyebrows.  It's almost as if 300,000 plus pro wrestling fans were purchasing UFC payperviews to see Brock fight for real and then decided to continue watching the other events.

So can Coker and Strikeforce follow Zuffa's path to the same success? Odds are no. The UFC has done a great job of taking the prime real estate somewhere between sport and spectacle.  Now Strikeforce could choose to compete with the UFC by flanking them in the sport department, but that is almost guaranteed to lead to failure. To do so they would have to try and offer a comparable number of top ranked fighters and relevant matches. The ROI would be unacceptable as they would find themselves competing for the few top ranked fighters with only a fraction of Zuffa's revenue to work with. If they managed to capture 10-20% of Zuffa's market they would still find themselves soon priced out by a merciless rival willing to outbid them at every turn.

But what if Strikeforce decided to focus on offering more spectacle than the UFC? Here is where they could find some of the same success, albeit on a smaller scale, that Zuffa has found. By toeing a fine line between the UFC and the WWE Strikeforce could potentially carve themselves out a nice niche,  luring an audience of mma hardcores, UFC fans, WWE fans, and specifically catering to those UFC fans who wish it was more like the WWE and the WWE fans that wish it was it real like the UFC. It is also a spot that offers the most protection. Would Zuffa want to risk making themselves more like the WWE in order to eliminate Strikeforce? Would the WWE switch to real matches in order to compete with Strikeforce? Ironically the safest harbor in the business might be smack dab in the middle of the two biggest promotions.

So Coker, if you are hoping to get a spike in viewers along the lines of what Brock brought to the UFC, then my recommendation would be to book a Fedor vs Werdum, Batist vs Lashley, and Babalu vs Hendo card on CBS this fall. Then go out and sign Kurt Angle for a cage match against his old foe Dan Puder (and conveniently Strikeforce fights in a cage), or steal the Kimbo vs Pudz freak fight from Moosin. And while fans are tuning in to catch the big names you can sneak in a Tim Kennedy vs Luke Rockhold or Josh Thomson vs Lyle Beerbohm to get them hooked to the real thing. And don't stop there. Get a giant jumbotron screen you can cart from city to city to play fighter intros before every match. Hire Jim Ross to take over play by play. Fire yourself and hire Paul Heymans to act as the face of the company. And if you're really lucky maybe you can offer Vince 10% of the company if he'll let you put a Strikeforce highlight show on after his RAW broadcast.

Remember Mr. Coker, the three most important letters in MMA are not U-F-C but W-W-E.

Bock1_medium

via www.memphiswrestlinghistory.com

The ideal Strikeforce champion.

Note: all payperview numbers for events before UFC 100 were attained here. For those after UFC 100, the number listed on wikipedia was used. Also, UFC 63 was mistakenly listed as having sold 700,000 when the actual number was 400,000. It has been corrected. Here is a nice graph for those who don't like to read:

Picture_php_medium

via www.cdn.sherdog.net

\The FanPosts are solely the subjective opinions of Bloody Elbow readers and do not necessarily reflect the views of Bloody Elbow editors or staff.

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