Yesterday Jake Rossen of Sherdog published a piece on the "devolution" of MMA among the smaller promotions and the reliance on pro wrestling style gimmickry. From the piece:
MMA was once a gimmick itself: the premise of throwing brave (and possibly stupid) fighters in a cage is a sports anomaly if there ever was one. Now that it’s somehow evolved into a legitimate event -- and the UFC has a monopoly on that structure -- the only answer is to devolve.
Two cases of note: Shine Fights, the promotion which branded itself as MMA’s least competent office with the Ricardo Mayorga fiasco in May, now has plans to resurrect itself with a single-night elimination tournament, a format so archaic that most athletic commissions refuse to recognize it; according to the Syracuse Examiner, former cruiserweight champion Bobby Gunn has offered to fight Kimbo Slice in a London-rules bare knuckle prizefight, the kind popularized by fighters with nicknames like "Gentleman" and "Battlin’."
I did a guest piece at SB Nation's Cage Side Seats yesterday to expand on the gimmick overlap between pro wrestling and MMA. In the piece I talk about the gimmickry from the top level to the absolute bottom:
They even go on to address the fact that the UFC is not above the gimmick matches, as can be seen in their willingness to promote James Toney's MMA debut or their attempt to shoehorn a low talent, high Q rating name like Kimbo Slice into their sharktank. To many experts the outcomes to these situations were obvious, as soon as Kimbo was put in with a real fighter he'd be beaten just like he was every time up to then...and as soon as Toney was matched up with a wrestler (as he will be against Randy Couture) he'll get taken down and pounded out. But to the casual fan there is a "what will happen?" element that makes their tuning in almost a necessity. Hell, anyone that claims that bringing Brock Lesnar in wasn't a gimmicky move is out of their mind. His success doesn't lessen the fact that the main reason they wanted an unproven 1-0 former pro wrestler was that people would tune in to see him.
The UFC has the luxury to pick and choose when to take these chances with bringing in a Slice or a Toney but, as Sherdog points out, for many lower level promotions the gimmick match is standard operating procedure.
MMA on the local level many times is a gimmick in and of itself. In my life I've been to plenty of both wrestling and MMA shows in bingo halls and local auditoriums and they both share the same level of disgusting carny characters and that feeling that you know someone is going to get hurt in a way that costs way more than they're getting paid (if they get paid at all). Still, you'll see a bigger crowd at a local MMA show than a local wrestling show because while bad wrestling just looks awful, at least in a real fight you're going to see some local hillbilly get knocked out.
Just to be clear, I'm not saying pro wrestling and MMA are the same thing at all. Simply that the promotional tactics are often similar...especially at the lowest levels of the sport.