LAS VEGAS, NV - NOVEMBER 30: Mixed martial artist Jon Jones holds the Fighter of the Year award at the Fighters Only World Mixed Martial Arts Awards 2011 at The Pearl concert theater at the Palms Casino Resort November 30, 2011 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Matthew Roth: Most major UFC cards are sold out weeks prior to the event. Does the fact that UFC 140 isn't sold out yet reflect on Jon Jones' lack of star power or should it be attributed to the UFC's inability to market events on a week's notice?
Dallas Winston: I would definitely lean toward the latter and the risk of over-saturating the market with so many events. I'm not sure how much more marketable you can get than Jon Jones: he is virtually undefeated and one of the most creative and charismatic champions in UFC history. Even if you happen to dislike him -- which doesn't really make him any less of an attraction -- he definitely has that "What will he do this time?" factor that generally intrigues the audience.
The core foundation for my enjoyment of breaking down match ups at the granular level was back when UFC and Pride shows were several months apart. This left an enormous window between marquee fights that definitely built more excitement and anticipation. I spent those months watching a ton of film and absorbing myself in all the relevant elements of the match up, then discussing my opinions at length on the internet with others. I found that this process heightened my anticipation for the event dramatically and I'd be counting down the days 'til the show.
I'd wager the high frequency and quantity of events is geared towards permeating the market strongly and attracting new fans or luring casual fans farther in, but the drawback is a feeling of almost monotony. I guess, if you take anything you absolutely love as an individual and completely indulge in it about once every week compared to once every month or so, the latter will typically make you savor and appreciate the finer qualities more. This version of "Deep Thoughts" on the human psyche as it relates to UFC buy-rates brought to you shamelessly by Dallas Winston.
Tim Burke: I don't think it's either, really. I think it's the UFC's inability to understand how to market cards in Canada when GSP isn't on them. Not having a Canadian on top is devastating to local ticket sales, especially in a fickle market like Toronto. It certainly doesn't help that the locals see this show as a bit second-rate considering the last one in town was the biggest UFC show of all time.
T.P. Grant: I feel it is a little of both.
Jon Jones is still a rising star, combat sports athletes are at their height of drawing power normally after their decline has started. Casual fans just aren't all that aware of him yet and the UFC hasn't put serious muscle into marketing him yet the way say Cain has gotten.
Also I think we are still in the post-UFC on Fox hang over, so much marketing energy went into that I think things are still getting back to normal with Zuffa.
Additionally Canada card with no GSP just isn't going to do as well, this is something we've seen several times.
KJ Gould: Canadian cards can and have done well without GSP, but Toronto strikes me as a different market to Montreal. Not to be disparaging to either, but Montreal strikes me as more of a Fight town, and Toronto as a Sports & Event town. Name value may be more important to Toronto and Jones just hasn't connected with certain fans yet. I think just because you become champion doesn't automatically mean you can carry an event especially in new markets and it might have better served the UFC to develop Jones further on American soil before testing his ability to draw elsewhere.
The UFC's spat with Spike hasn't helped either, but the "weird transitional period" excuse already feels exhausted. Generally speaking too many events too close to each other is a factor, and flooding the market will decrease value no matter the commodity. It's especially true if cards are put on with more frequency featuring fights that have no meaning beyond short term entertainment. Dana White likes to counter the saturation argument with something like "You don't hear people saying there's too much Football", but Stick and Ball sports have seasons, and the leagues people care about involve teams competing to progress to a championship finale. It's pretty rare you'll find teams paired against each other just for the hell of it because it might produce an exciting game. Sports fans almost always want less sizzle and more steak.
David Castillo: Definitely the latter, rather than the former. It's easy for us to see what makes Jon Jones a star: he's talented, exciting, and violent. Plus he's very presentable, hence the appearances on the various talk shows. Media wise, he's diligent, so you'd think he'd slither his way onto GQ by now. The guy just has 'it', even if the MMA media has been hypercritical of just what 'it' means. But on paper, he's a star.
However, I don't think he's had an adequate amount of time for the public to think about him. It was only February of this year that he was choking the hell out of Ryan Bader in a fight many felt was 50/50 at the time. When he fought for the title, it was against a champion who was coming off a year long layoff. His 'exposure' to the masses has been brief. He's established himself as the dominant force in the division in less than a year (with this being his 4th fight of 2011). I'm not sure we can claim Jones "lacks star power", and certainly not by gauging how he draws in an indifferent market like Toronto.
Matthew Roth: Well then what does this say for next year when the UFC is running 34 shows plus however many for Strikeforce?
KJ Gould: It says they better do a better job of pacing their event schedule and make sure the PPV side doesn't have filler fights that have no business being there.
Dallas Winston: Further to KJ's point about seasons and "normal sports" teams progressing toward a goal, I've always thought the UFC direly needs some rough form of rankings or basic establishment of a divisional hierarchy. That's another advantage of hosting a Grand Prix, which they've been clear is not of interest.
Even we, the dedicated hardcore followers, don't always know who will get the next title shot or who's trying to break into the top five or ten of the weight class. I would love to see Rogan and Goldie discuss who the top guys are, their recent history of wins and losses and a graphic or some type of visual with a list of names. I know that the UFC publishing their own rankings could be messy, but it doesn't even have to really be a concrete ranking. It could just be a list they show of who the top guys in the weight class are and where they think they stack up as contenders.
That's just been my idea for a long time that might break up the monotony of so many events. For example, anytime a fight is announced as a number one contender bout, it's immediately given a certain luster that makes it seem more important and also carries a storyline and continuity because the winner goes on to fight for the belt.
TP Grant: I agree with you Dallas. It is something I thought was odd when I first crossed over from traditional sports to first watching MMA that there was no rankings, not even a general these guys are contenders put out by the UFC. I think it is something that casual fans could use as to instantly understand who is important and who to watch.
Fraser Coffeen: Agreed about the rankings. What made K-1 so awesome during it's peak years was that there was this system, where the winner of THIS tournament moved on to here, who moved on to here, who then fought in the big Grand Prix. And at the end of every year, you knew definitively who the #1 guy in the world was. Come back K-1!
As for the original question - I think it's a bit early to say, as we may be confusing "lack of ticket sales" with "lack of PPV buys." Questions of burn-out or star power for the mass audience - let's revisit those after the buyrates come in.
What I do think is a factor is the UFC in particular, and MMA in general, failing to capitalize on the regionalism that pretty much every other major sport uses as a massive marketing technique. 129 was huge largely because it was GSP fighting in Canada. Look at the great response live to the Rio show. Strikeforce used to get this when they would do great ticket sales business in San Jose with Cung Le and Frank Shamrock at the top. WEC even did a good job with this when they had Faber fighting in Sacramento. I'd like to see the UFC push this idea more.
Example: I live in Chicago, and I see Clay Guida on billboards, Clay Guida on TV ads - why when the UFC returns to Chicago am I not seeing Clay Guida FIGHT?
KJ Gould: UFC could do their own internal 'Power Rankings' based on who's been on a tear and who's been impressive in their run, have it as a fan interactive segment on their website to get their audience more involved (or at least make them feel more involved, which may be all that's needed). Because it's 'Power Rankings' it won't matter that much if it's at odds with independent rankings, as long as some case is made for the UFC's charting - even if it's just promotional fluff, that'd be better than Dana White saying something like "He's the best, end of discussion, I'm right, you're wrong, f**k you".
Fraser Coffeen: I really loved when the UFC used to do that in the early Zuffa days. I remember they would show a top 5 in the division that would even (gasp!) include Pride fighters. They weren't quite as cutthroat to all competition back in those days.
Matthew Roth: I think Jones may be falling into the same trap that Anderson Silva did for years. He's just too dominant of a champion that even legitimate challengers just feel like they're not in his league. The easy in which he defeated Bader, Shogun, and Rampage just makes it a hard sell. It's absurd to say that out loud but without the real chance that he can be defeated entering the fight, it just doesn't make sense to pay for his headlining bouts.
On the other side, it's not even the fact that the media just isn't there on the internet for this card. Based on reader responses, the local media just doesn't care. There's no advertisements. It's a tough sell when the pricing is different from 129 and you lack the Canadian champion at the top.
KJ Gould: The dominance of champions used to be what drove combat sports from a commercial standpoint. It seems pretty strange to think a similar dominance in MMA would turn fans off. The bigger issue is Jones not connecting with the audience. He's trying too hard with his wannabe role model Martial Artiste persona and many fans feel it's contrived. It's like Carlton Banks trying too hard to impress, instead of the Fresh Prince being cool and natural.
Yeah, I decided to squeeze some 90's pop culture in hear, so sue me.
Josh Nason: I'm surprised I haven't read more here about the lack of Machida being seen as a powerful contender. It's not like he's been on the path to this title through a dominant run. I don't think he earned it by any means and the only reason this fight is happening is because the UFC felt like this show needed a true main event. Live gate wise to this point, that doesn't seem to have helped. Dana White said that by far, Toronto is the strongest market they have and this has to shake that a bit.
I look forward to seeing him fight, but it's not like a true "I can't wait until Saturday" anticipation. I'd really like to see him in a tough fight. The greatest athletes are made through battling through adversity and he's just made it look too easy. That can work one of two ways and I don't think it's fully swung in his favor yet. Honestly, it won't until he fights Rashad Evans.
Matthew Roth: That's a good point. I think a lot of Machida's mystique is gone after the knockout against Shogun and losing to Rampage. The crane kick against Couture was awesome but it doesn't make him a top light heavyweight in the same sense that Dan Henderson, Rashad, Evans, and Jon Jones are. And yes, I do realize that Machida beat Rashad. That doesn't change the fact that Rashad is a better 205er than Lyoto. And it really goes back to my point, since Machida doesn't really seem like a legitimate challenge, why should anyone buy the card?
Josh Nason: I think there are some fun fights if you like names. No one is talking about Mir/Nogueira or Ortiz/Nogueira. Mark Hominick gets back on the road to be a contender again. Casual fan-wise, this is the same as a lot of cards recently. It's a dead horse story but they need perceived stars to help move the needle. I think we'll have the same discussion in January when Jose Aldo and Chad Mendes headline a PPV and everyone's like, "Huh?"
TP Grant: I think Dan Henderson is getting overvalued right now as the #2 LHW in the world and I actually think Lyoto is being underplayed. I still consider Lyoto in that elite contender's class of fighters at 205 lbs. I don't ignore his loss to Rampage, but also don't consider it a massive indictment against him either.
Not many complained about Rampage as a contender when his most significant win was in fact that iffy split decision over Lyoto since his 2007 win over Hendo. And Rahsad's biggest enemy is becoming inactivity. Shogun needs a big win or two to warrant a rematch. Holes can be poked in everyone's resume, I have no problem with Lyoto challenging for the belt.
Josh Nason: But what about the "win" over Rua that was really a loss and then, the KO loss to Rua in the rematch? The last time he really impressed was in that title win over Rashad Evans...which was May 2009. Yes, he beat Couture in April but it's not like he was an elite fighter at that point. Perhaps the reason Hendo is being pushed so heavily in circles is because the LHW division needs something extra at the top.
TP Grant: I said I don't ignore Rampage's win, but didn't hold it over him as a indictment of him as an elite fighter. I approached Lyoto/Rua I the same way.
Josh Nason: I'm curious and this may be off-topic: in your opinion, what makes one an elite fighter?
TP Grant: Consistent success, including against proven veteran gatekeepers, well rounded skills, and wins over Top 10 competition.