Chael Sonnen, Nick Diaz, Georges St-Pierre: The MMA Fighter as a Brand
The UFC is a brand, and just like the company itself the fighters they employ are a part of that brand. Everyone from Georges St-Pierre, Chael Sonnen, Michael Bisping and even Nick Diaz sells those who buy the pay-per-views on their personalities.
They may not mean to, though some of them do, but how they present themselves does effect the buy rates on the PPVs they appear on.
Much like pro wrestlers or movie stars, fighters have stocks, and they decide how much of an economic force they will be.
The most important thing is for a fighter to win, but when a fighter is perceived in a different light, they do have some leeway. Fighters like Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture may lose fight after fight, but they have done enough to have fans buy their fights anyway.
Because both Liddell and Couture are known for making fun fights and being respectful to the fans. Yes, they won those fights for the majority of their careers, but when that ended, fans still supported them.
Fans saw enough clips with Liddell and Couture's best moments that they were able to see both men and instantly connect them with fond memories of watching fights and the excitement they brought. They went from being dominant champions to being icons.
When fans see Liddell's mohawk, they think of the "Iceman" and knockouts.
When fans see Couture, they think of America and an older fighter who was able to win fights against younger men.
None of these thoughts may be conscious, but they have been imprinted into fans' heads, which is why fighters like Couture and Liddell could maintain top-star status even when they lost several fights.
Current fighters like Georges St-Pierre have the same accolades given to them, though St-Pierre has them tempered in his case because of his penchant for winning by decision. That angers some fans, but he wins fights and does it while holding himself like a professional.
Fans rarely see GSP out of a suit and usually never hear him spout off a negative comment about his opponent. While he may split fans with the way he fights, he has a certain image that makes him a PPV draw.
That is because he draws the contingent of fans who want to see sportsmanship, class and game plans that involve technique with strategy built in to them.
The same goes for fighters like Chael Sonnen, Michael Bisping and Nick Diaz, who where the black hats in MMA.
With the exception of Nick Diaz, the fighters mentioned above are not the most exciting to watch in the cage. Their lack of penchant for finishing opponents or making the most exciting fights is nullified by the fact that fans want to see them lose.
Nick Diaz is known as the crazed but talented fighter who brings excitement to his matches.
Chael Sonnen is known to inject pro wrestling promos into the pre-fight buildup.
Michael Bisping is the snarky Brit who doesn't give a toss what you think.
Each of these aren't special traits on their own, but because the men mentioned have found success on the top level and been exposed to fans over and over again, they have "trademarked" those personality traits and stereotypes.
There are fans who despise them while there are others who enjoy their antics and pay to see what they will say next.
The UFC knows this and markets each man a certain way, each time continuing fans' expectations and solidifying their preconceived notions. That is because a few key fighters who are branded sell cards better than a full card.
Fans may still come for the overall experience, but they still need characters, because they will have fanbases and give the UFC potential storylines.
It may be something that certain fans want to ignore, but it is a reality of the business.
And for the UFC, as long as it uses branded fighters, business is good.
Matthew Hemphill writes for the MMA and professional wrestling portion of Bleacher Report. He also hosts a blog elbaexiled.blogspot.com that focuses on books, music, comic books, video games, film and generally anything that could be related to the realms of nerdom.
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