Is the UFC Mis-Marketing UFC 132?

UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz will defend his title against former WEC featherweight champ Urijah Faber this Saturday at UFC 132. As the sole title fight on the card, it's headlining, but the ad that the UFC is running in heavy rotation on Spike TV and other channels emphasizes the co-main event Wanderlei Silva vs. Chris Leben and Tito Ortiz vs Ryan Bader as much or more than the headliner.'s Tim Marchman thinks they're making a mistake, calling the ad "31 seconds worth of everything that's wrong with fighting in 2011". He elaborates:

The great obvious problem that UFC has now, more important than intransigent New York politicians or fighters injuring themselves with needlessly tough training, is the difficulty of making new stars. The company's biggest attractions are, in rough order, Brock Lesnar, Georges St. Pierre, Anderson Silva, Quinton Jackson, Forrest Griffin, Rashad Evans, Frank Mir and B.J. Penn. All have been around forever and none is under 30. Most won fame on the first crest of public interest in fighting that followed the debut of The Ultimate Fighter. Of the eight, just one is in his prime.
There is nothing haphazard about the way UFC constructs its advertisements. For a card built around a major fight like St-Pierre's title defense against Jake Shields, the promotional materials will usually key in on that one bout and not even mention others. For cards sold on the strength of several fights, the ads will list the bouts in order of how saleable UFC thinks they are. Promos for UFC 126, for instance, listed Anderson Silva's middleweight title defense against Vitor Belfort, Forrest Griffin vs. Rich Franklin, and Bader vs. Jon Jones, in that order.

Fans pick up on these cues, and so you can be sure that even as Cruz's bantamweight title defense goes on last on Sunday, they'll treat the tie-ups between Silva and Leben and Bader and Ortiz as the main events, the fights that won their time and money, the ones that feature real stars.

This is unfortunate. ...

What's nearly as off as the positioning of the fighters is what the ad implies about what matters in a fight. "Pay up to see UFC 132," it more or less says, "and you are guaranteed to see guys swinging at each other's heads, trying to knock one another out. Real men go for blood."

The shame of this is that the sixth of the six men in this ad, Dominick Cruz, is a tactical genius as marketable as any young fighter in the game other than Jon Jones. If Chris Leben's do-or-die-trying artlessness and P.O.D. insisting that the boom is coming play into the worst conceptions of fighting as crass spectacle, Cruz's elusiveness and dense defensive gestures are their exact opposite. Dodging four of five strikes thrown at him behind an incredible screen of quick, peppery combinations -- the man attempted 478 strikes in his last fight! -- Cruz is an artist and the walking antithesis of the idea that MMA is a kind of brute, mindless violence.

I don't know that I agree with Marchman that the UFC should be pushing Dominick Cruz -- a bantamweight making his UFC debut -- or trying to make a case for appreciating Cruz' subtle, nuanced style part of their sales pitch for the pay-pre-view. 

But he's indisputably right about the problem the UFC has in building new stars. As he says elsewhere in the column, it's an inherent problem in the business of combat sports that by the time an athlete has reached his maximum commercial potential, he's long past his physical prime. Nevertheless, the UFC needs to up its game when it comes to breaking new stars. 

With the exception of Anderson Silva, all the big UFC draws Marchman lists have coached The Ultimate Fighter. That's a great way to introduce a proven competitor like Rampage Jackson or Antonio Rodrigo Nogeira to more fans, but it's not really appropriate for a young star, even a champ like Dominick Cruz or Jon Jones.

I'm hopeful, excited even, that a new TV deal will allow the UFC to get creative with new ways to promote their many talented young fighters.


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