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Fights, Fans, and Celebrities

One of my favorite parts of watching the PPV events is seeing what celebrities are sitting in the VIP section. Like boxing events of old, the glitterati draw and are drawn to the ringside cameras. They crowd around the octagon and wait for the camera to pan to them. The fans cheer, boo, or are indifferent.  Sports stars, comedians, and musicians are regularly spotted in the backdrop of professional fights. Chris Pratt has shown up before the first early prelim and stayed for every fight of the entire event. Jared Leto shows up to fight night and PPV events with shocking consistency. Kid Rock gets premium seating next to Dana White (and a certain reality TV star).

Image – NewsBreak

The Eye In The Sky

When the eye in the sky dragged itself across the A list crowd during UFC 296, the usual pops came at the usual places. Middleweight contender Dricus Du Plessis flexed and preened predictably. The camera then moved to frame current middleweight champion, Sean Strickland. Strickland was ready to stand up and do some flexing of his own. Sean made a gun gesture with his hand and popped one off at Dricus. Unhappy with the champ’s behavior, Dricus kept his schtick going to an increasingly uncomfortable Strickland. The camera jumped away and the event moved on.

Image – MMA Fighting

A Different Kind of Fighter

I want to take this opportunity to illuminate a difference between Sean Strickland and a majority of fighters. Many fighters rightly view the UFC as a business opportunity to make their brand seen across the world. The global status of MMA has risen to astronomical heights in the last thirty years, and the celebrity status afforded is vast. To the fighter with this in mind, promo events, interviews, and press conferences are all a branding opportunity. A camera on this kind of fighter is a commercial.

Sean Strickland knows how to sell fights, but not the way any proper corporate entity would approve of. When Dricus mimed at bad blood to sell a fight Strickland politely asked the family sitting between himself and Dricus to move. After they moved, Strickland hopped over the seats and beat on Dricus’ face with his fists and elbows until he was pulled off and removed from the arena by security.

Image – Bleacher Report

Perhaps there is a savvy business man underneath Strickland’s thorny exterior. Maybe he understands that to stand out from the crowd, he has to be wilder than all the other men and women that punch each other in the face for money. It’s equally likely that he just stays ready to punch a motherfucker. Intentionally or not, he became the main event of two consecutive pay-per-views that night.

A Bad Analogy

With UFC 297 looming large on the horizon, I’m preparing for a glut of promo footage featuring Sean Strickland jumping Driccus Du Plessis. When you put a camera on Sean Strickland, it’s not a commercial for a slick, money generating sport, it’s an unfolding story full of hyper masculinity. It’s like “The Hobbit” with assault charges and 5.56 rounds. Dana White is Smaug, or something. I don’t know, this analogy sucks.

“I’m Not A Role-model”

This brings me back to a few other examples where real world conflict has been used to sell fights. Colby Covington and Jorge Masvidal were once inseparable friends. They had a bond that they would describe as, “us against the world.” For whatever reason, this changed and the UFC used real instances of their ruined friendship to sell their two fights. Colby won both fights in true Colby fashion by grinding out five rounds, rabbit punching a gassed Masvidal against the cage. The rivalry didn’t end there, and Colby spent the next few days posting and tagging Jorge Masvidal in vitriolic Instagram posts that detailed his failings as a father, fighter, and friend. Consequently, Jorge responded in kind by finding Colby outside of a Miami steakhouse and sucker-punching him twice.

Image – Sporting News

Masvidal was arrested and faced a $10,000 fine and up to fifteen years in jail for the assault. The rumor around the MMA blog-o-sphere was that Colby dropped the charges in exchange for a shot at Leon Edwards and the title at 170. Colby then showed up to UFC 296 and put on the performance of a lifetime. Masvidal plead out to misdemeanor assault and received no jail time. Honestly, if I were Colby I would have kept the charges, or kept my fucking mouth shut to begin with.

Still Not A Role-Model

My next notable mention is the most infamous of these events, leading to the biggest PPV in UFC history. That’s right, you know what I’m talking about. The infamous “Conor and some loading equipment vs an entire bus full of fighters” incident. The UFC used footage of Conor and his goons rushing a bus full of fighters to the tune of 2.4 million PPV buys. In the immediate aftermath, Conor was facing felony assault and possible deportation. McGregor pled down to misdemeanor disorderly conduct and completed community service and anger management courses. Since then, Conor has been in his fair share of trouble with the law, however none attached to the promotion of a UFC event.

Image – Daily Express

Why We Like The Fights

I’ve long complained about the out of touch marketing the UFC employs. The era of former football stars being brought into the roster and heavily promoted seems to be winding down. The rise and fall of CM Punk was accidental comedy brilliance. Thankfully, that and some dodgy drug tests halted all of the momentum to Brock Lesner’s UFC/Pro-Wrestling crossover.

Image – Wrestling News

The reasons people watch MMA are not the same reasons people watch basketball, cricket, or WWE. Many sports are simulated combat that act out the violence of a group on another group. They see who will best whom in games. Nevertheless, to people like Sean Strickland, Conor McGregor, and Jorge Masvidal, this isn’t a fucking game. The star shines on these pugilists incidentally. Part of the appeal of a UFC event is that these guys would fighting in the parking lot behind Madison Square Garden if they weren’t on the card. Every fan I’ve come across, from the “just stand up” guy at BWW to the most ardent analyst, understands this at least intuitively. People fight because of an innate need to fight. The machines that grow around this fact exist to help or hinder that need. It’s nice to see the boss of seating arrangements help out.

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