It says a lot that after a great event, Dana opens with this tirade
“Everybody has know for years what I feel about these goofy internet websites; I hate them. They’re biassed, crooked and there are a lot of bad things I could say about them but I won’t waste my time.
The rankings that they had were always baissed towards us, the reporting was always biassed towards us… Talking about, you know, fights that don’t make any sense… I tell you what. We’re the best in the business. Our matchmaker is the best, we put on the biggest and the best fights. Nobody knows how these fights are going to turn out. And anyone that fights in the UFC deserves to be here and you see it every time these fights happen.
The rankings are bullshit, they drive me crazy. If you come from Japan you’re automatically the number one of the world or the number 10, 9, 8 7, 6, ya know… and ever since the aquisition of Pride, we’ve proven that it’s all bullshit. Anyway, I’ve been dying to say that!”
Well, if you took time to read my article that I wrote a couple of days ago, I suggested that the UFC were more interested in putting one over on Pride than they were in promoting the Pride fighters as superstars and consequently making insane amounts of money. This is just further evidence of that.
Dana and the rest of the UFC management have been so annoyed for so long that they value sticking two fingers up at internet sites far more highly than promoting and building the Pride guys and I personally find it quite bizzare and disappointing for people who are meant to be such savvy businessmen. Pride guys have gone something like 1-7 now in the UFC and that is largely down to Joe Silva.
Sure, it looks like the UFC guys would have eventually come out on top (due to the steriods issue and because the seasoned UFC guys work harder on their cardio), but to obliterate the Pride legacy at such an early stage is absolute lunacy in terms of building hype and selling tickets.
It’s also worth noting the following from Dave Meltzer at Wrestling Observer. Link
Joe Silva’s truths were revealed when, with Rua still crumpled on the canvas, Mr. Silva came bounding over to the press area to say something to Wrestling Observer editor Dave Meltzer. While the very
fact that Mr. Meltzer was chosen for this mini-celebration is another feather in his journalistic cap, the greater truth was that Joe Silva was no ordinary matchmaker for this fight. Somewhere – be it in his conscious or subconscious thinking – Mr. Silva booked Griffin vs. Rua with the impressed hope of a Griffin victory. This was not the entertainment hope of a great fight or the business hope of making money in the present or future. This was the raw, trenchant hope of destroying the enemy. Joe Silva wanted Shogun Rua to lose in emphatic, spectacular fashion. That wish was granted.
What I’m getting at is this. Although the Pride legacy lays in absolute tatters and most likely the Pride guys were held in higher esteem than they deserved… be of no doubt - the slaying of Pride was not an organic process rather it was as manufactured as any storyline could possibly be in the sport of MMA. Joe Silva is indeed the best matchmaker in the business and has shown just how devastating a few carefully chosen matchups can be.
- And finally, just a quick footnote in anticipation. I am not a Pride nuthugger, I couldn’t care less either way. I just come from a marketing background and like to analyse things from a business standpoint.
- On and a note from that note. It’s “couldn’t care less”…. why do people say “could care less”? Do they not understand that means they DO care?
Nothing sells in combat sports like a rivalry. If there’s a hometown hero to root for then you’re really talking big bucks. With that said, aside from the fact we’ll never see another Pride event, are the UFC missing a trick by promoting the Pride brand so minimally? Sure, the UFC is doing great business as it is and UFC 75 did indeed set a new record on Spike TV, but has the collective Zuffa ego missed an opportunity to promote a rivalry of epic proportions?
Pride held it’s last event on the 8th April, just 5 months ago. Since then, 4 former Pride fighters have made their octagon debuts, with one each at 70, 73, 74 and 75. Several more are due to fight in the next few months, whilst Paulo Filho has joined the WEC. The anticipated invasion has been less of a tidal wave and more of an uneventful trickle and whilst you can’t account for Mirko losing 2 of 3 fights, the relative lack of impact from Pride’s fighters is largely down to Zuffa’s method of integration, their lack of promotion and indeed their matchmaking.
My question; given that Pride’s acquisition is the single most important incident in the history of MMA, is this really the best Zuffa could have done? Individually they have given the fighters a small to moderate push but wouldn’t the hype (and the subsequent revenue generated) be much greater if the “Pride guys” were marketed together?
Imagine the scene. It’s UFC 74. Zuffa acquired Pride just 4 months ago but no announcement has been made to the masses. Only the hardcore fans know that something big has been rumbling for months. Contracts have been signed but there has been no sight of Wanderlei, Shogun, Nog or Henderson. Only CroCop has made a solitary appearance in the UFC.
The event proceeds as usual but mid way through the PPV we cut to the big screen. It’s Dana White making an announcement at the Pride press conference in Japan. “The only two companies that matter in this world are the UFC are Pride. But make no mistake about it, the UFC is coming here to kick your ass”. Cut to a smiling Wanderlei Silva - “I don’t think so”.
Excruciatingly loud music fills the arena, a highlight of brutal Pride knockouts plays on the big screen and to the Octagon march 10 of Pride’s finest fighters. A mixture of cheers and boos in the arena, whilst at home the fans are either salivating or asking “who the hell are these guys?” Either way people are buzzing.
Mirko CroCop, a man with his heart still firmly in Pride, announces the names of the new fighters who acknowledge the crowd en masse. “We’re here to prove who the best in the world really are” one says. More cheers, more boos, more excitement, the lights go out and a group of new heroes take their seats at cage side for the rest of the show. The camera cuts back to Joe Rogan who mentions something about world class skills, whilst every MMA forum on the net spontaneously combusts.
With one simple but extraordinarily powerful introduction, you generate both an ingrained rivalry and great interest in a big group of fighters. By presenting the Pride guys as pseudo heel characters to the fans of “Ultimate Fighting”, every fight is worth so much more. Forgive the pun but with every fight, there’s now pride at stake. Rather than having to sell Marcus Aurelio, Ryo Chonan or Fabricio Werdum on their own, the job is already done and in reality it gives many of these fighters far more pulling power than they could ever generate as an individual.
However annoying they may have been, Pride vs UFC threads have been the staple of internet message boards for years. Can you imagine how much money they could have made by transferring that debate to the TUF generation? So why didn’t it happen?
1. The instinctive response is that promoting another brand is counter productive but is that really the case? By introducing the word Pride, are people going to start looking elsewhere for their MMA? In short, no they won’t. The fans know there are other organisations, they just don’t care because King of the Cage isn’t what people are talking about. The UFC remains the pre-eminent brand because it has become a cultural phenomenon; it’s Ultimate Fighting that makes the news, not Mixed Martial Arts. Promoting a group of fighters from a now extinct organization isn’t going to change that and the UFC bosses know it.
2. So were the UFC management simply too impatient? Now under contract to Zuffa are Shogun, Wanderlei, Filho, Henderson, Big Nog, Werdum, Chonan, Mirko, Aurelio and Nakamura but they were signed over an extended period of time. Is 4 months too long to wait for a memorable introduction? Of course it isn’t. The welterweight division sits of hold for 8 MONTHS so TUF can manufacture some more low quality household names. I’m sure they could have held up the debuts of Big Nog, Werdum and Aurelio for long enough to promote the hype around the most important merger in MMA history.
3. Perhaps Zuffa felt the concept of Pride vs UFC was too “pro wrestling” in nature? Come on… let’s be serious. The UFC runs it’s business entirely on a pro wrestling model and they are fully aware of that. Semi-manufactured feuds are the staple of the UFC and have done the best numbers time and time again.
4. Were Zuffa worried the Pride guys would come out on top in the Pride vs UFC battle? Possibly. How many “Pride guys” have they tried to build? How many have had gimmies? Mirko had one gimme but since then Zuffa have been unwilling to sacrifice their own names to build the hype. Most Pride fighters have been brought in to unfavourable matchups (Werdum, Aurelio, Henderson, CroCop vs Gonzaga) and Zuffa seem more than happy for them to be picked off one by one, thus validating the UFC brand.
So now after just 5 or so of these Pride vs UFC matchups, Sports Illustrated have stated without question that “Pride was overrated”.
In reality, the UFC could have given these guys the Bisping/Huerta treatment and made them stars. They just chose not to. If Pride were now 4-1 instead of 1-4 vs the UFC, what would that Sports Illustrated article say? Less of an ego boost for the UFC of course but a hype article playing up these new contenders would certainly sell a lot more PPVs than one saying “these new guys are basically all rubbish”.
The UFC cannot control the outcome of every fight but it appears that through their matchmaking, they have cut their nose off to spite their face.
5. Finally, moving on to what I believe is the main, all encompassing factor. Did the UFC think they were a big enough brand in their own right that they simply didn’t need a promotional gimmick?
The Zuffa response appears to be grown men throwing a foosball table into a swimming pool and yet another “beef” between 2 individuals (Hughes and Serra). That can only last one fight and then the UFC will be looking for another story. Meanwhile, despite Dana White publicly lambasting the in house brawl on TUF5, they are heavily promoting more of the same for TUF6. Zuffa are clearly very good at what they do but are they just one trick ponies? Is that why they failed to make a spectacle of the Pride merger, stateside?
So what now?
Forgetting coulda, woulda, shoulda, what should the UFC do now to rectify the situation?
Zuffa have access to the Pride video library, so why have we only seen the odd highlight reel knockout? They look great but they also feel very distant and detached to fans who have never seen Pride. Put those same knockouts into a degree of context and they would mean so much more and would enable new fans to build some sort of connection to these fighters.
I was at UFC75 and when Dan Henderson walked to the octagon, most people were in the bathroom or getting the beers in. Moreover, I would estimate that 90% of the crowd had never seen one of his fights in full and quite frankly, a lot of people weren’t that interested. To put it into perspective, he received less of a reception that Jess Liaudin – a Frenchman training in America, who gets pushed as “English” just because he lived in London for a while.
The Solution? Why not produce a series of “Pride Unleashed” or perhaps more appropriately “UFC Unleashed: Pride special”?
Present full fights under the UFC brand, cherry picking the ones that suit your promotional push. Show fighters only under contract and only in their highlight reel fights. Build familiarity and in turn build yourself a bunch of stars without them even having to fight. Risk free superstars, all paid for by DSE! They brought CroCop in as an unknown to the TUF generation expecting him to become a star, but he got decimated. Why take the risk when there’s a ready-made, boil in the bag solution?
However you look at it, the entire situation is bizarre. Zuffa paid a reported $65m for the Pride brand and although they removed the possibility of a competitor such as Ed Fishman taking up the reigns, they could have done a lot more.
For the first time they have illustrated a naive business approach that has cost them a lot of money. The reason? A feeling that they’re big enough without having to tap into Pride’s brand for ready made superstars. In short, complacency and an over inflated ego.
It’s certainly not going to see their downfall but they have most definitely missed the boat on this one and it’s a shame. No matter how contrived a Pride vs UFC saga would have been, if they’d done it properly, it would have been amazing to watch.