Like many here, I began my love affair with MMA beginning with UFC 1. Coming from a Mexican family, we always got together for the boxing fights on PPV, so I always had a thirst for combat sports. When the UFC came around, I was fascinated by its original star, Mr. Royce Gracie himself. It made me want to watch future UFC’s just to see how he would achieve victory against whoever was standing on the opposite side of the cage. After UFC 5 or 6 I stopped watching MMA for awhile, but while working at a video store during my teens, I would see the box covers for the UFC fights and there were faces that were regulars on the covers. Faces with the names of Tito Ortiz, Chuck Liddell, and Randy Couture would stare me down as I walked by putting away DVDs. I was not an avid watcher during that time, but I recognized the names and knew if they were on a card, I should be watching it.
When I really got back into watching it around 2005, there were names that I could begin to follow and dare I say, even adore. BJ Penn’s fire and passion to fight, GSP molding into the superstar that everyone was anticipating him to be, Randy Couture defying the laws of age by holding his own against youngsters, Chuck Liddell making every LHW piss their pants at the thought of facing him, Jim Carrey’s buffer twin Rich Franklin destroying the MW division, Forrest Griffin and that other guy (just kidding) putting on a great finale at TUF; it was a great time to see the rise of the UFC stars. New Year’s Eve weekend of 2006 I was stoked to see Liddell smack around Ortiz. In February of 2007 I was on my feet jumping around watching Couture take down the giant that was Tim Sylvia. Few more years of great names and match-ups made me a very happy fan. Now we’re coming to the point where the UFC is scrambling to find a star of that caliber.
Years have passed, and the UFC’s biggest names are now in the twilight of their career, and are not the draws that they once were. More and more we are seeing the UFC scrambling to have a decent main event that will draw out the buyers, little alone a decent PPV card with names that fans can clamor over. With Brock Lesnar playing in the WWE and the wait for GSP to return continues, where are the stars?
Some state that the UFC has plenty of stars still with names like Jon Jones, Anderson Silva, Nick Diaz, and….um, and…hmmm. The UFC is in a weird spot right now, where they have incredibly talented fighters, but those fighters lack the personality to get the attention of the fans. On the opposite spectrum, we have guys like Jason Miller and Chael Sonnen who talk a good game and get people chattering, yet (win or lose) disappoint with their performances. Frankie Edgar vs Gray Maynard II was an unbelievable fight, but aside from the hard core fans, no one was talking about it, nor really cared to watch it. I myself was excited for part III, but once again due to those fighters having the personality of a wet towel, not much hype was created around it. Carlos Condit gives me goose bumps whenever he steps into the cage, but I remember watching UFC Prime Time and other interviews and kind of just shrugging my shoulders. The UFC’s golden boy Jon Jones is getting better ratings on PPV buys, but a majority of fans do not accept him despite his reign of dominance. Even Anderson Silva still is not that big of a draw, and that is mainly due to his refusal to speak English and, as Greg Jackson would say, go get him some fans.
When Chuck was on top of the game, he could do no wrong. While Randy was around, everyone was happy to see Captain America fighting or giving his insight about the sport. Even Tito Ortiz, despite a lot of people disliking him, had star power that we do not see in the UFC anymore. So, what happened to the magic? What happened to just a brief interview or highlight of a fighter causing a stir amongst us and the casual fans? Where are the superstars that we so badly need right now? How do we create the Chuck’s and Tito’s of yesterday? I understand that being a Mixed Martial Artist comes first, and they should train to be the best in their trade and want to win fights. I’m not going to lie though; I miss being entertained by my favorite fighters. I miss not having to worry about if either fighter is going to lay and pray, or wall and stall their way to a victory. I miss hearing other people get as excited as I am about upcoming fights. I hate hearing, “Who?” when I talk about who is fighting on any given weekend.
We have seen TUF trying to resolve this by putting the spotlight on the coaches and the contestants. We have seen some fighters trying to make a name for themselves via a clever gimmick like Alex Caceres, or a whacky personality like Tom Lawlor, or wild hair styles that every other fighter seems to be doing lately. But, how do we create the perfect mixture of incredible fighter and charming, relatable character? How does the UFC create stars again? What do we want to see in and out of the cage that is going to propel these fighters into being household names?