UFC's 10 Most Marketable International Fighters
With UFC 120 right around the bend, I began thinking about the UFC's growing international marketability. MMA truly is the world's fastest growing sport, but what we must remember is that it is also one of the world's fastest growing businesses as well.
We are now learning it doesn't really matter as much who can fight, but who the sport's growing worldwide audience will pay to see. The UFC knows better than any other that marketability is key to success, and they can rely on these 10 men to open up the world’s wallet.
Number 10: Stefan Struve
Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images
As the UFC expands farther into inland Europe, I guarantee we'll see more and more Struve.
He's fought everywhere from Munich to Oakland to South Korea, and puts on an amazing fight in every outing. If the UFC plays there cards right, Struve has the build, kickboxing, submissions and the Dutch heritage to be the next Alistair Overeem.
Struve is perfect for reeling in Europe's kickboxing fans, and putting on a show to keep them coming back for more.
Number 9: George Sotiropoulos
Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images
Hailing from Vicotria, Australia, Sotiropoulos brings an entire new fanbase with him to the UFC. As we saw from UFC 110, Australia is more than willing to embrace the UFC with open arms. What we saw even more of was the love the showered upon fellow countryman, George Sotiropoulos.
He’s near the top of the heap in the UFC’s stacked lightweight division and if he keeps on winning, then Australian demand for the UFC will skyrocket even higher than it had at UFC 110. He is to Australia what GSP is to Canada, and that’s great for business.
Number 8: Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic
What is left to say about Cro Cop that hasn’t already been said? He’s a legend in Japan, a national icon in Croatia and widely respected just about everywhere else on the planet. Put Cro Cop’s name next to anything and it’ll sell like the iPhone in at least three continents. Just take a look at this coffee endorsement.
Number 7: Michael Bisping
Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
Michael Bisping talks trash like he’s in the WWE, and people either love him or wish imminent death upon him. In this case, hatred works out great for Bisping and the UFC. How so? Fans will buy video games just to beat down Bisping, they’ll buy his opponent's merchandise to show support for anybody who is not Bisping and they most definitely will tune in, in hopes of seeing his face caved in.
Number 6: Anderson Silva
Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images
Anderson Silva is quite possibly the greatest fighter to ever live, and the UFC has taken that to the bank. He doesn’t speak English but is beloved throughout the US, headlined the company’s debut in the Middle East (sure it was a terrible fight, but it sold) and he’s about to headline a card in Germany. Skill sells, and people will pay good money to watch Anderson Silva fight.
Number 5: Mauricio “Shogun” Rua
Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images
Shogun Rua is renowned throughout Japan for his dominant reign over Pride’s middleweight division. In North America, he defeated the UFC’s most dominant light heavyweight, Chuck Liddell, in Montreal, earning huge notoriety in multiple continents.
Taking it even further, the guy has a Rocky Balboa status comeback story. I can see the title now, “Trounced by Griffin, Gassed by Coleman, Screwed by Judges: The Journey of a Champion."
People aren’t just paying to buy his merchandise or watch him fight; they’re paying to continue an emotional connection. If you saw the UFC 113 hype videos, then you know the UFC have been able to put those emotions to good use.
Number 4: Dan Hardy
Dan Hardy has a mouth like Michael Bisping when it comes to hyping fights, but remains humble in defeat. His bad boy image (complete with red Mohawk) appeals to would-be bad asses and ladies alike. He is the perfect fit for UK fans, has the respect of GSP (which will pay off in Canada), and we in the US just love heavy hitters who speak their mind.
Number 3: Yoshihiro Akiyama
A lot of fighters are popular in Asia, but none to the extent of the man known as “Sexyama." He has won Judo gold medals for Japan and South Korea in the Asian Championships and Asian Games, is a popular singer and even has his own car commercial for Kia Motors.
What does this mean for the UFC? People throughout Asia will buy just about anything that Akiyama endorses. Also, both his fights in the US were Fights of the Night.
Number 2: Georges St. Pierre
Georges St. Pierre has dominated world-class competition like no other champion in the UFC. GSP’s popularity in MMA throughout the US, UK and Canada is spreading into different industries everyday.
His fighting prowess has earned him acclaim in fields far surpassing MMA, as seen in his projects with Under Armour and Gatorade. Thanks to GSP, big brand names not generally associated with MMA are now linked to the UFC. That’s free advertising to a massive consumer base.
Number 1: Wanderlei Silva
He is the most beloved champion in Pride FC history, he’s been a mainstay in Asia and Brazil for a decade, he helped sell out UFC 110 in Australia, he’s fought the best of the best and he’s probably the nicest athlete of all time.
People buy into Wanderlei because he gives fans worldwide exactly what they want: vicious beatings, blood, knockouts and autographs with a smile. Hell, he even shaved a half naked Mark Coleman for the fan's sake. Take a look.
Ian Walton/Getty Images
As always...MORGAN FREEMAN!