Jon Jones vs. Alexander Gustafsson: Does Anyone Care About This Fight?
On the surface you'd think that both hardcore and casual fans alike would be pretty excited to see such a transcendent fighter in action. You'd think.
Jones, the first fighter to ink a global deal with Nike, is a special brew of athleticism, creativity, viciousness and, most importantly, wrestling that the sport has never seen. Hell, he could win fights with his reach alone, which extends a LeBron James-like 84-plus inches.
Jones had developed an aura of invincibility, that at some point, while not something one can document, surpassed even that of Anderson Silva's...even before Silva's loss to Chris Weidman.
Paired with his striking, Jones' X-factor, the aforementioned wrestling, seems to allow him to dictate the fight from all angles on the X-Y-Z plane.
But enough praise for the fighter that is Jones. Let's get back to his upcoming scrap with Gustafsson.
Randomized double-blind placebo control studies are considered by many the “gold standard” for testing.
So if someone wanted to definitively determine if people cared about this fight, and by exactly how much, they might go with a double bind. Instead, I will use some random Internet poll I strategically placed on my last article: "2nd Half of 2013 Set to Offer One of the Sweetest Stretches in UFC History."
Considering we know nothing about who voted, let's proceed.
Of the 1,700-plus people who voted, only 5.5 percent said "Jones vs. Gustafasson" was their most anticipated fight. Now when it comes to polling, it's all about how you ask the question. So, if for example, I'd asked "Are you excited about 'Jones vs. Gustafasson' and are you going to buy the pay-per-view?" then it's possible 90 percent of people would have responded with a "Hell yeah."
So then maybe we can not definitively say that people are in fact not excited for this fight. And if people are in fact stoked for this fight, then that bodes very well for the UFC because that would mean they are even more pumped for several other fights on the above list.
Let's look at those fights.
Obviously UFC 168, featuring the rematch between Silva and Weidman, is going to be huge. Over 42 percent of voters picked that as their most anticipated fight. Not a big surprise to most, I'd imagine.
From there it was a close race for second place with "GSP vs. Hendricks," "Velasquez vs. JDS III" and "Henderson vs. Pettis II" all getting somewhere between 15 and 15.5 percent of the vote.
That Henderson vs. Pettis II got the same love as the other two fights might be surprising to some and may indicate that more hardcore fans voted versus casual fans as Henderson vs. Pettis II is not a fight, at least on paper, you'd think casuals would be chomping at the bit for. I could be wrong, but it stands to reason based on historic interest levels in lighter weight fights.
Following that thread, though, let's say the hardcores who voted just aren't into Jones vs. Gustafasson, at least not as much as the four fights ahead of it on the list. Assuming we believe that to be true, it begs the question why—which leads to a few possible reasons.
1. They are simply more interested in the dynamics surrounding the other fights.
This has to account for at least part of it and probably most of it. A Silva vs. Wiedman rematch is obvious.
A trilogy between two heavyweights is obviously enticing, although I thought that with Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos maybe not being as marketable as some of the other champs, it would not score quite as well. But it did.
GSP vs. Hendricks features GSP, who is obviously a very popular champ despite the fact that he has been branded by a large contingent of fans as "safe" and/or "boring." And Hendricks seems to be a popular fighter with a segment of both hardcore and casual fans (I base this on talking with fans I consider casual). People think he has a good shot at knocking GSP out, or at least they are convincing themselves as such because they are tired of GSP being safe/boring.
Henderson vs. Pettis II is obviously an exciting rematch. Their first fight—contested under the WEC banner—featured with one of the most electrifying moves in MMA history and subsequently showed up on ESPN highlight reels; it even made their Top 100 moves list of 2010.
2. People just don't care about Gus/see him as an unworthy foe that Jones will walk through.
This one is an extension of the first in that people just can't seem to get all that excited about this match up.
Jones has been pretty downright dominant while champ, dispatching of more former champs than you can shake a stick at. Combine that with the fact that most are just not sold on Gustafasson and you have a fight that only 5 percent of people picked as their most anticipated fight.
Coming from someone who is excited for this fight, I can see both sides of the coin.
That more are not excited to simply see Jones in action, to see how he will go about breaking his challenger down, is somewhat surprising though. People were certainly on the edge of their couch or bar stool when the shark that was Tyson was fed chum in the water. While Jones is not Tyson, he did build up the belief around him of "he can't be beat, how is he going to beat them."
Frankly, I think "what unique way is Jones going to digest his gazelle this time" is more compelling television than "Tyson predictably knocks out another in the first or second round." But I realize there is more to it than just that.
3. Jon Jones is not quite the draw that some in certain circles think he is.
Continuing with where we left off in the last point, Jones just may not be as big of a draw as some might think. Being an MMA editor for a mainstream sports website, I get exposed to both hardcores and casuals (varying degrees of casual). And from all that I can gather, everyone seem to care about Jones in some form or fashion.
But if you look at the history of the buyrate for the PPV events which he's headlined, it's not as high as some might expect. His best buyrate comes via his bad blood match with former teammate and friend Rashad Evans. That storyline sold pretty well.
Even then, though, the reported buyrate was only 700,000. Georges St-Pierre and Anderson Silva have pulled much bigger numbers, but of course, they have been around a lot longer than Jones has.
From there it drops to 500,000, plus/minus 50,000.
Jones vs. "Rampage" Jackson did 520,000 and his one-sided "coach vs. coach" exhibition with Chael Sonnen registered 550,000. Fights with Vitor Belfort, Lyoto Machida and Shogun Rua ranged between 450,000 and 490,00.
All in all, not bad numbers.
And it's fair to give any fighter time to grow his brand, and their buyrate.
But with many seeing Jones as unbeatable, Gustafasson as having little to no shot and lots of competition from other great fight cards, it will be interesting to see if this is the worst PPV buyrate yet for Jones as champ (or fighting for the belt as he was when he beat Rua).
Extended PPV talk
Another thing on with PPV buyrates, worth getting tangential on, is that we can never know for sure the breakdown between hardcores and casuals who purchased.
They say that the hardcores will buy anything. Although if you talk to aging hardcores, that is not the case anymore. I have a friend who coined the term "casualization of hardcores" and said that is what the UFC has turned him into with so many fight cards.
But if a buyrate is low, say 300,000 or less, we assume that it's mostly the hardcores buying it. And when you get 1.6 million homes purchasing UFC 100, well you know that tons of casual fans bought in and even those who are less than casual. Perhaps we can call those novelty fans or casual light.
So with Jones vs. Evans, which hit 700,000, we can say that both hardcores and casuals tuned in. It had a storyline that cut across party lines. With Jones vs. Gustafasson, it could be an interesting blend where not all of the hardcore base is there because either they just don't care or don't want to budget for it, but a decent amount of casuals tune in because they just want to see the enigmatic figure that is Jones.
Alas, we'll never know that level of parsing...and hardcore vs. casual is a bit of a false construct, albeit an easy one, as it is with any black or white shading. But it's interesting conjecture. At least for this guy.
So to bring it back home...will people care about Jones vs. Gustafsson?
We cannot definitively answer that; it would seem that at least some care, but when put up against other title fights it certainly falls well short (according to a very informal Internet poll at least).
Held up on its own, a good amount probably care, for their reasons, but to what degree the masses are going to tune in remains to be seen.
I think the most interesting thing to ponder from this informal look is: Just how big of a star is Jon Jones and how much bigger can he get over time?
Will a fight with Daniel Cormier take him to a level where he can generate upwards of a million PPV buys?
Or will he have to move up to heavyweight and challenge the likes of Velasquez and dos Santos to even up to and ultimately surpass a fighter of the magnitude of Georges St. Pierre.
The future is certainly bright for Jon Jones. Just how bright remains to be seen.
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