With Brock Lesnar's retirement following his UFC 141 loss to Alistair Overeem, many are wondering if there's a way for the UFC to make up for the business being lost. In the second part of Luke Thomas' interview with Dave Meltzer, Luke asked if Lesnar's impact was long term or just a brief shot in the arm for UFC business.
There are people he brought in who grew, who appreciated and became sustainable fans. The vast majority of that I would say is not the case. I'll give you a perfect example. If tomorrow, something happens and Georges St. Pierre retires and he's got all this Canadian fanbase. I would guarantee you that, some of those fans will stay, but most of those fans will also be gone because that's what happens in every sport. Just like with Ali in boxing. When Ali left, yeah, he made a ton of fans for boxing but how many of them really stayed for Larry Holmes? Not that many. I think in team sports, it's different. I think in team sports, they sustain better. In individual sports, I notice the kind of guys whether it's Tiger Woods or Ali that swell the audience for those sports, when those guys are gone, yeah, they did help the sport, but most of the audience that they swelled, they're gone when the star is gone and I think that's gonna be the same thing with Brock. I think that the vast majority of people that he brought to pay-per-view, I don't think they'll buy another pay-per-view. Some will buy every pay-per-view though.
Using Ali and Holmes is a bit of a problem though. Ali was a rare superstar personality, but his career had foes like Liston, Foreman, Frazier and Norton, rivals who allowed for something more than Ali to simply be a "big mouth." Holmes never had quite that same level of big name rival other than maybe Michael Spinks. Post-Ali the overall quality of the division was down, it wasn't just that no one cared because Holmes wasn't Ali.
If anything Lesnar may have been more of a Tyson, a guy who was the entire attraction for a large segment of fans. Post-Lesnar, the UFC heavyweight division isn't a wasteland. In fact, with the addition of the Strikeforce heavyweights it will be the strongest heavyweight division in the history of any promotion.
But this all raises the ultimate question facing the UFC: Are they ever going to embrace really marketing guys as unique? Lesnar was something more than just "a UFC fighter" because of his background. To many fans the majority of the roster just feels like interchangeable pieces.
I love the UFC and they've done things so well that it is to the point where no one can argue against Zuffa being good for MMA. But I really feel like the marketing is in a rut. I talked about it back in October when I was on Press Row with Jordan Breen, but it feels like they're reluctant to truly establish many fighters as special. They're embracing it with Jon Jones to a degree, but does it seem like the UFC sells a guy like Jose Aldo, who is the dominant featherweight force in the world with a thirteen fight win streak is sold as particularly special or unique in a way that goes beyond the same way that they marketed Mauricio Rua when he had the title? They were just both "feared Brazilian strikers" and little more other than little tidbits of their personal stories.
It just feels like few men are treated like actual stars in the UFC's marketing efforts now and that transfers over into the public perception (as is the point of marketing, I suppose). When Aldo faces Chad Mendes I'm sure we'll hear a bit about how Aldo is really good, but we'll go right into the recycled "if you were going to build a fighter to beat the champ, this is the guy you would build" shtick.
Going back to the start of when the UFC boom started, it was Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz and Randy Couture filling the superstar roles. They were each great fighters, but they were also three unique and identifiable personalities. Did the marketing of them as special go off the rails at times? Sure. The UFC 43 ring walk for Liddell was ridiculously over the top, but when the generally soft spoken Couture beat him it was the start of Randy's real rise to a star. And that's somewhat evident when you look at UFC 43 drawing a buyrate of 49,000 and then UFC 44 with the unification bout between Couture and Ortiz drawing 94,000 buys and UFC 46 with Couture against Vitor Belfort doing 80,000. If anything, that old school moment should teach the UFC that it's okay to market a guy as something more than just "really good" because his opponent can gain a lot if he pulls off the win over someone sold as truly special.
Lesnar leaving means that the UFC is lacking in fighters that the public is going to find truly unique. It's time for the marketing team to open the playbook a little bit and find the willingness to start pushing the best the promotion has as more than just "wrestlers" "strikers" or "dangerous."
2011 was the first down period in a long time for the promotion (partly because of injuries to the very few mainstream stars) and they should view it as an opportunity and a challenge to do what the UFC has always done and up their game.