No Holds Barred: Jim Ross discusses UFC PPV and TV ratings, Chael Sonnen, and the importance of babyfaces and heels in MMA

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

In part two of BloodyElbow.com’s interview with Jim Ross, the legendary WWE commentator discusses the importance of babyfaces and heels in MMA, as well as the UFC’s recent PPV and TV numbers.

The UFC has recently faced some seemingly rough television numbers over the past few months - an issue that some have deemed the result of oversaturation of the product. With what could arguably be too many UFC events taking place throughout the year, it is difficult for even the hardcore fan to keep up with all the action, never-mind remain consistently engaged with the product.

One man who is all too aware of the issues an entertainment company can face is former WWE talent relations consultant and commentator Jim Ross, who, in his interview with BloodyElbow.com, drew a comparison between the issues faced in the WWE and the UFC and suggested that overexposure is the enemy of network television.

"I think it is very easy for any entity to get overexposed. I think that overexposure is an enemy for the promotion. For the television carrier, they look at it from a different light - they are getting new programming. But what is best in the long run for the carrier, in this case FOX, is that you don't want to burn out your brand.

"The UFC is like the WWE in as much as they don't have an off-season. So when you don't have an odd-season, you have to be very careful on how much of your product is consumed by the viewer. It is hard to keep up with a lot of things. It is really hard in our busy lives to keep up with all those programs. The other thing is that you need those fights in the UFC to be compelling. You have to continue to draw new viewers, and viewers have got to understand who's fighting, who they are, what is at stake, and why they should be interested in this fight. How do you get the fans interested in those fighters?

"Overexposure is great at times for the network, but in the long haul its not. Overexposure is a network's enemy. But it is very challenging for an organization like WWE or UFC to continue to come up with the right creative programing and the right product. It is not easy."

The similarities between the UFC and the WWE do not stop with their potential network troubles, as Ross suggested that some traditional pro wrestling tactics have been used to promote UFC events. JR delved further into this by explaining how the concepts of babyface vs. heel and nationalistic pride have helped sell UFC PPVs.

"Now as for the hardcore viewers and Internet users, you already have them. It is the causal viewers that you have to educate. I don't consume as much online - I do some for the UFC - but I really enjoy the genre of MMA. What interests me with it is the same thing that interested me when I was a kid in pro wrestling - the characters. I got to know the participants. I had the heroes that I enjoyed cheering for and there were clearly defined villains that I enjoyed watching lose. The bottom line is I got to know who the competitors were, and that created a personal investment that we've got to have.

"We know when a Canadian fights in Brazil who the babyface is and who the heel is. It is the same when Bret Hart was the proud Canadian and was a heel in America, then he went back to Canada and was a hero again. It was a USA vs. Canada thing. It is an old-school philosophy with a nationalism storyline that play out. You say there is no such thing as a babyface or a heel? That is laughable to me."

To further elaborate his point, JR used the obvious example of former two division title challenger Chael Sonnen, who is infamous for his elaborate pro-wrestling style shtick.

"Chael [Sonnen] created an environment where you either like him or you don't like him," he said. "You weren't going to be neutral. He enlisted an emotion from the fanbase. He has been very brilliant in how he verbally markets fights and creates a strong desire to watch him fight.  In the [first] Anderson Silva, he had clearly won every round, and he had me cheering for him. I believe that based on what he was saying that he had a great confidence and a chance to do the unthinkable, which was to beat the mighty Silva for the title. At that time Silva was next to bulletproof, so I bought into Chael's tactics for selling this fight. You come to the arena and you hear the Brazilian chants from the Brazilian fans that are there and the Americans, and non-Brazilians largely, are cheering for Chael, even though he is a lightning rod."

With a storied history as the head of talent relations in the WWE, Ross is all too aware of the short window of opportunity that competitors have to truly maximize their earning potential. It is for this reason that he advises athletes to develop their own brand and take advantage of opportunities when they arise.

"I think that going forward, the fighters that are smart are the ones that are going to develop their own style of marketing their brand. They have to realize that in MMA, similar as with their body, an invisible ink has an expiration date. There is a shelf life to being an MMA fighter. There is a short window of opportunity for most UFC guys."

*Ringside: An Evening with Jim Ross will next take place in Chicago, Illinois at the House of Blues on May 31st. It will be a 2pm matinee show one day before the WWE Payback show. Tickets are available through ticketmaster.com and at the door.

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