10 Ways UFC Matchmaker Joe Silva Could Better Build Future Stars
Creating stars in any sport is more art than science. Nowhere is that more true than mixed martial arts.
Some fighters, despite their obvious limitations, just seem to resonate with the fanbase. You can try to put your finger on the reason why, but it flitters away like magic.
Think Kimbo Slice or Clay Guida.
Other fighters, despite model looks, humble personae and athletic excellence, never seem to catch on with the fans.
Think Frankie Edgar, Jon Fitch or Jake Shields.
If there is an algorithm, the nerds have kept it carefully saved in their scientific calculators pending some sort of contract negotiations. They certainly haven't shared it with the humble MMA media or the UFC's genius matchmakers Joe Silva and Sean Shelby.
But I submit that there is a way to create a new generation of MMA stars, a group of fighters custom built to replace aging veterans like Anderson Silva, Georges St-Pierre and B.J. Penn. It requires only the most basic math and a whole lot of luck.
Ready to take notes, Joe? Please proceed.
Fight Jobbers on Facebook (X2)
It's all about starting slow here. If this is a promising prospect, find him some low-level opposition that matches up the right way style-wise.
This isn't the time or place to put two wrestlers in against each other or have an inexperienced striker face a grappling wizard. Find a warm body and let our boy go to town.
It sure wouldn't hurt to score a Knockout or Submission of the Night as he first makes his bones in the promotion.
Fight on the Free UFC PPV Prelims (X2)
Now that we've got a little hardcore buzz going, it's time to introduce our boy to the masses. Instead of tens of thousands of fans watching, hundreds of thousands will tune in for the prelims on FX.
It's a perfect chance for our prospect to be seen by the casual fans that drive this sport. Again, careful matchmaking is paramount here.
Find an Ultimate Fighter washout or a veteran in his "Shannon the Cannon" end days and give our boy a win here. We don't just want to fill a card—we want to use it here, to maximize impact.
Time for a Wrestling Check: Fight on the Main Card of a UFC TV Card (X1)
Before the UFC (or any promotion) invests too much time in a young fighter, they need to know if they have the potential to succeed at the highest levels. If you're a jiu-jitsu artist or a kickboxer, that means it's time for the dreaded "wrestling check."
The UFC weeds out prospects by seeing how well they compete against an American wrestler. If they can't stay off their back (or can't use the bottom position effectively) they will likely never make it as an upper-echelon fighter.
If the prospect is a wrestler, this is the time to test him against a savvy grappler with sick submissions. The same applies here. Besides Chael Sonnen, few advance to the top of the sport without competent submission defense.
Meet Ariel Helwani
Now that you've passed your final test, it's off to the races. It's time to get serious about getting some exposure for your prospect.
Arrange an interview with MMA celebrity journalist Ariel Helwani.
Do a wacky interview with Crooklyn on TapouT radio.
Have the fighter's manager call up Jeremy Botter to request a custom slideshow (you're not anybody in the sports world until Bleacher Report has done at least three slideshows on you).
Before your fighter swims with the sharks, though, be ready. Work with a media professional to help get comfortable. Come up with some clever anecdotes. Use the media before they use you.
Fight on the Main Card of a UFC PPV (X2)
Now you separate the men from the boys.
No more cans or stylistically favorable matches. Here you face another top prospect or a veteran looking to make a last run at the belt.
Can your fighter cut it in the UFC or not?
Time to prove it. This is where stars first begin to shine. Own the moment.
Compete in a Season of the Ultimate Fighter
This is the area where I think the UFC could use some serious change.
Right now, The Ultimate Fighter is a platform for fighters who haven't even made their UFC debut yet. Why waste so much prime television time on fighters who may never make it?
I propose using the reality show for fighters on the cusp of something special.
It could do wonders turning a fighter from "I think I've heard of him," into an athlete capable of attracting an audience.
Main or Co-Main a UFC on FX/Fuel (X1)
Now that he's more than Internet famous, with a season of reality television under his belt, it's time for the UFC to take advantage on all the hard work they've put into building your fighter.
At the top of the card, it's a different game. Not only do you have to fight a better class of opponent, there is also pressure on you to promote the show. He'll do more media than you can even imagine.
Every site with MMA in the URL will come calling. Sports radio in every market. Appearances on UFC Live or Inside MMA.
This is the big time. You've made it.
Guest Host UFC Live on Fuel
Time to step up your media game, fighters. If you've made it this far, it's nearly time to live out the dream—a UFC title shot.
First, though, your fighter will need to go the extra mile to make himself a fan favorite. Why not give TV a try?
Beware, though—it's not as easy as Kenny Florian, Rashad Evans and Brian Stann make it look. You can look silly in an instant.
Prepare for this opportunity like you prepare for a fight. Get your fighter a media trainer and be ready when the call comes to join Todd Harris or Bas Rutten.
Co-Main UFC PPV (X1)
Eight fights into your fighter's UFC career, and he's ready to be on the UFC PPV poster. Congratulations. Only a few fighters ever reach this pinnacle.
Our careful plan has prepared your fighter for this opportunity. He's built a solid fanbase, proven he's a legitimate competitor and built up his bona fides with the MMA media.
After filming a Countdown special, there's only one thing left to do. Earn a shot at the championship.
UFC Title Fight
This is why you fight, right?
Any competitor worth his salt is in the sport to be the very best. A title fight is where you prove it. It's a chance for a fighter to announce to the world that's he's the toughest man on the planet in his weight class.
The only problem? Georges St-Pierre, Anderson Silva or Jon Jones may be standing across the Octagon. Gulp!
I can't help you with that. We're building stars here, fighters who will bring fans with them when they compete on PPV. Only a trainer can build champions. Words won't be enough.