Thus far, the sport of MMA has yet to find a true media darling that can flash a smile or use his gift for gab to impassion (or inflame) the hearts of millions.
Boxing has had so many of these rare species of men that one would think there is an instruction manual somewhere.
Men like Muhammad Ali, Sugar Ray Leonard, Mike Tyson, Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather have been such massive stars that they attract the minds and money of fans who don’t normally watch boxing.
They have that mythical “it” quality that MMA has yet to mine.
Chael Sonnen has the gift of gab, but he’s never won a UFC title.
Anderson Silva is beautiful to watch, but he doesn’t seem passionate about what he’s doing unless he’s fighting in Brazil.
Georges St-Pierre is a beloved figure in Canada, but in America he has yet to really break out as a superstar, possibly because he sounds somewhat robotic and uninspired when he speaks to the press.
Jon Jones is an incredible fighter who is still very young and fighting in the prime of his career, but many see him as an actor trying to find the right role.
In fact, most MMA fighters of note seem to take their sport (and the possibility of losing in the big fights) so seriously that they keep their optimism and personality under lock-and-key. They do their talking in the cage, where it matters most.
While this is exactly as it should be, they have no other means by which to attract the masses.
Boxing has never seemed to have this problem, although it could be a situation they soon have to contend with. Mayweather and Pacquiao are at the tail end of their careers; after they retire, who fills the void?
Of course, with the sport of MMA finding its way onto cable television, things may indeed change.
As more and more fight fans are exposed to the sport, quiet men like Cain Velasquez will gather more and more fans.
Boxing was first built on live performances, then radio and then free television. MMA has a similar track record. First is was the live crowds, then the internet, then PPV and now onto free (somewhat) television.
In ten years from now, if things continue to progress as they are now, MMA will indeed find their superstars and it will be a watershed moment for the sport.
But they will still need to promote said fighters as the stars of the show, instead of the event itself. In the end, such promotions like the UFC are really only venues where fighters display their skills. If a superstar emerges, he or she will only transcend the limitations of their predecessors by living out their dreams and by proxy seeming larger than life.
And no one looks larger than life when they are treated like just another employee, expected to say: “How high?” when Dana White says: “Jump.”
If they can’t get that kind of treatment in the UFC, then they will be more than happy to look elsewhere when the time comes.