"UFC Primetime" is the best marketing idea the UFC has had since Dana White first locked a bunch of rowdy 20-somethings in a house with booze and cameras, and asked them if they wanted to "be a f*ckin' fighter?".
The cameras are still there, but the booze, the silliness and the reality TV schlock (thankfully) isn't.
Instead, we the viewers follow two fighters in the weeks leading up to an anticipated main event. We see them eat, see them train, and see them with family and friends, away from the flash of cameras and the glare of the Octagon lights. It is as intimate a look at their talent as the UFC has ever offered.
The whole concept of "Primetime" is stolen borrowed from HBO's "24/7" boxing series, but in this case, imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery. The "24/7" series is almost entirely responsible for the PPV superstar that is Floyd Mayweather Jr. Without that widely-viewed television outlet for his "Money" persona, I doubt Floyd could draw his usual 1 million PPV buys solely with his jab n' dance, "Lyoto Machida meets Kalib Starnes with boxing gloves on" style.
"24/7", like "Primetime", is a phenomenal outlet for building fighters, feuds, and fights. And with the recent announcement that the Georges St-Pierre vs. Jake Shields main event at UFC 129 would be the latest fight to get a "Primetime" special, fan interest has once again been piqued...mostly.
Ok, so was the world really calling out for a third GSP-centric "Primetime" special? I get that Jake Shields still needs to "get over" with casual fans (having fought only once in the UFC previously) but c'mon.
It seems that all the "Primetime's" featuring GSP could be summed up as "Here's why GSP is such a great guy, and his next opponent is the biggest threat he's ever faced."
Not that there's anything wrong with that. Hey, if it aint broke, don't fix it. It also helps that in Jake's case the threat of an upset is very real, even if the soon to be "feud" between the two men is manufactured and likely to end in another "bro hug" like the GSP-Koscheck feud.
The more I thought about it, the more I realized there were some upcoming fights that could really benefit from a "Primetime" special.
Here are the top 5 upcoming fights that ask for—nay, demand—the full-on "Primetime" treatment.
We'll start with the most obvious choice right up front. This fight has already become the most captivating "feud" in MMA right now, and best of all—it's all real.
Rashad Evans and Jon Jones were "friends" and training partners, when No. 1 contender Evans falls out of his title fight with a last minute injury. Hyped phenom Jon Jones takes his title shot, then wins the belt in impressive fashion. Suddenly he, Evans and mutual head coach Greg Jackson are in quite the predicament.
At first, it looked like Rashad was going to uphold the Team Jackson "teammates don't fight teammates!" mantra, until statements Jones made to the press about being "open" to an Evans fight got under skin.
Comments were made, insults perceived and returned, and recriminations flew between the two parties. What started as a mere inconvenience ended up as an ugly, public blow-up, with Rashad "firing" Coach Jackson and leaving the camp in a cloud of insinuation, innuendo, and insult.
The result is a summer title fight featuring the most hyped young fighter in MMA defending his newly won belt against possibly the sport's biggest villain—who also happens to be his former friend, and his one of head coach's first successful students.
I think I can hear cash registers ringing already.
Dana White couldn't have asked for a more attractive falling out from a fan perspective then the Rashad Evans-Jon Jones-Greg Jackson blow-up of the last few weeks. It's the kind of story Vince McMahon would kill for, the kind of plot you'd see in a Kung Fu flick or Hollywood blockbuster.
Can you think of a better backdrop for a drama-fuelled "Primetime" feature? Rashad and "Rampage" Jackson enjoyed great success having "Primetime" coverage leading up to their fight. Based only on the strength of their "feud", and the muscle of the UFC's and Spike's many television outlets like "Primetime" and "The Ultimate Fighter", their fight broke 1 million PPV buys despite the fact that no title was on
This fight, prompted properly, would shatter that number. It could be the biggest LHW title fight since Tito-Chuck II, maybe even bigger. It could be the fight that transforms Jones (or Rashad) into a bona fide PPV superstar.
This fights absolutely NEEDS a "Primetime" special.
If there ever was the "perfect" fighter to be featured in a "UFC Primetime" series, that fighter must certainly be Chael Sonnen.
Consider the absolutely remarkable feats Sonnen was able to achieve in the build up to his fight with Anderson Silva—all without the benefit of direct television exposure a la "Primetime" or "The Ultimate Fighter".
In just a few months, Sonnen transformed himself from just another faceless MW title challenger into arguably the most polarising figure in the sport today. He was brash, he was arrogant, he was funny and irritating and creative and shocking, all at the same time. He was Ric Flair meets Charlie Sheen, with Olympic-level wrestling a Republican party membership, and a huge pair of b*lls.
It was only after the Silva fight that we found out that last part wasn't exactly true. Sorry, had to do it.
Sonnen pulled off nothing short of a minor miracle—not only single-handedly dragging the fight to reasonable PPV success, but also creating a scenario where Anderson Silva (then despised post-Maia fight) was once again a guy fans cheered for. It was remarkable.
All that without any significant media spotlight, and against a fighter who was (and still is, really) a black hole as far as selling a fight goes.
Just imagine what he could do with a weekly television outlet for his, ahem, "antics". Just imagine the fanboy rage and adulation as he unleashes another campaign of trash talk on cable television. Just imagine the things Sonnen could come up with when pitted against Mike Bisping.
And let's not forget ol' "Spitsbing," as Sonnen has already taken to calling him. A veteran of two seasons of "The Ultimate Fighter", Bisping is no stranger to the bright lights of television—nor to being on the wrong side of fanboy scorn.
The combination of these two in one show might cause your TV to explode from all the D-baggery. But who cares? It'd be entertaining as hell, and you'd watch every episode. Don't lie.
Ok, I know this fight isn't technically a UFC fight, as it will likely go down in Strikeforce. But since the UFC purchased Strikeforce, I figure it's all one big MMA promotion now anyways. And if ever the UFC would decide to "loan" the "Primetime" concept to Scott Coker and company, it would be for this fight.
On the other hand, since Strikeforce is still produced by the Showtime network, perhaps they would be inclined to film a "Primetime" or "24/7" style special for this fight themselves. But I digress.
I'm still utterly confounded as to why this fight hasn't already been made—why it hasn't happened long ago, on as big a platform as possible, with plenty of rematches to follow.
One of Strikeforce's biggest faults as a company was their inability to develop compelling, interesting fights that go beyond the "just a fun scrap" mentality. That philosophy resulted in a lot of fun cards, but none with longevity, with depth, with meaning. One looked at most Strikeforce cards and thought "That looks like fun, but why should I care?"
This fight to me was (still is, really) the answer to those problems. You have a genuine storyline fans care about, featuring two extremely mercurial personalities who have legitimate beef with one another. This is the kind of rivalry hardcore and casual fans alike would eat up with a spoon.
And yet, it hasn't happened yet. Blame it on weight issues. Blame it on intransigent camps or managers. Blame it on Miller "ducking" Diaz, or vice versa. Blame it on Scott Coker's seeming inability to control the fighters he has under contract. Hell, you can even blame Canada if that helps.
Assuming this fight does one day actually happen, a "Primetime" feature would be the perfect build-up. Miller's exposure as host of MTV's "Bully Beatdown" already proves he's got the chops and charisma to draw on television.
And Diaz? You telling me that guy won't be entertaining with a camera crew following him around 24/7? I fully expect an expletive-filled rant every hour, and a "Stone Cole Steve Austin" style flipping of the bird every five minutes. Stockton represent, mofos!
Most importantly, these guys have legitimate beef. There's no need to "manufacture" any animosity for the benefit of reality TV. Just put a camera on them and let it roll!
Since the UFC "merged" with sister promotion WEC, they've have problems trying to get the promotion's lighter weight fighters "over" with fans used to rooting for the biggest and meanest. I guarantee if you went up to the average TapouT-wearing fan watching UFC at the neighbourhood watering hole, and asked him "who's the UFC Bantamweight champion of the world?" the answer would be "what the hell is Bantamweight?".
This fight could be the answer to that problem. After his victory over Eddie Wineland at UFC 129, former Featherweight champ (now fighting at Bantamweight) Urijah Faber was given a title shot at reigning 135 lbs champ Dominick Cruz.
This is a big deal for two reasons. The first is that Urijah was—and still is—the biggest star to come over from the WEC, where he was the poster boy for the promotion. As a handsome, charismatic and fun to watch fighter, Faber is capable of reaching across age, gender, and demographic lines like few other fighters.
The second reason is that Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber have legitimate beef (see how important that is?) that goes back several years to their days in the WEC. The two men first fought in 2007, with Faber defeating Cruz via guillotine, kicking off years and back and forth recriminations between the two.
Cruz felt slighted because the promotion for the fight was focused solely on Faber—Cruz wasn't even featured on the event poster despite being a world title challenger. Feelings, as they say, were hurt. For being such tough badasses, MMA fighters really are a sensitive bunch.
Since then, the bad blood has only grown between the two—helped by Dominick's two victories over Faber's Team Alpha Male comrade Joseph Benavidez.
Prompted properly by, oh I don't know, a couple weeks of "UFC Primetime" drama, this could be the first "super fight" of the new lighter weight divisions.
Ok, I know I've totally gone off the rails with this one, but hear me out. Yes, this fight is in Strikeforce, not the UFC, but like I said above. It's all one big happy family now—no reason they can't import the "Primetime" concept to their new sister promotion.
And yes, I know this fight is only speculative at this point. Who even knows if Gina Carano is coming back to MMA? Despite her recent appearance (reappearance?) on a Strikeforce broadcast a few weeks ago, and Scott Coker's repeated assurances, Carano may be done with fighting forever.
Beating up Ewan McGregor over multiple takes is, after all, certainly an easier gig then stepping into a cage and actually throwing down in front of thousands of people.
And judging by Ms. Carano's last experience in MMA, can you blame her? I think getting steamrolled by Cris "Cyborg" Santos would be enough to convince anyone to seek out a new profession.
But assuming she does come back, and assuming "Cyborg" is her opponent (and why wouldn't she be? There's not exactly a long line of girls waiting to face Santos, is there?), this fight would be perfect for a "Primetime" special.
In fact, properly prompted, this fight could be what Cruz vs. Faber could be for the WED fighters—the fight that gets them "over" with casual fans. And by "them", I mean female athletes fighting in Mixed Martial Arts.
Forget the tried and true formula of trash talk and manufactured "bad blood" this time around—I know, be still your beating heart. This time, we don't need any reality TV hijinks. All that is required is what was always required: Gina Carano appearing on screen, while legions of adolescent boys get, uh, excited.
Gina draws fans. That point is pretty much beyond dispute at this point.
So once they're watching, a nuanced, considered look at female athletes in MMA such as "Primetime" could deliver would be exactly what women's MMA needs to "turn the corner", so to speak. This series could convince those on the fence that this isn't just some mud wrestling-esque sideshow attraction, and that women have just as viable a future in the fight industry as do their male counter parts.