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MMA Is Much More Than Fighting

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It has been said that to succeed in MMA you have to earn it with countless hours in the gym and the cage, honing your craft to amass a win streak that puts you head and shoulders above all other competitors in your division. However, this ideal world of ‘you get out what you put in’ just isn’t reality and we are seeing it more and more often in the world of MMA.

As the UFC has grown from a thuggish subculture to a household sporting league, so have the fighters evolved to become less like the tribal tattooed bar brawlers of old to their own athletic brand, selling not only their in ring skills, but their personality and likeness to the highest bidder.

Whether you believe MMA should be solely about combat, or you feel the sport is naturally progressing as all do in this capitalist world, it’s impossible to deny the impact of out of cage influences on the sport of mixed martial arts.

Just mere days ago, Alexander Gustafsson was announced as the first challenger to Daniel Cormier’s newly acquired light heavyweight title to the disdain of some fans. Despite there being other worthy challengers to the title, most notably Ryan Bader and his four fight winning streak, Gustafsson superseded all of them and was handed the title shot, despite coming off a first round KO loss. This decision by the UFC brass is just another in a long line showing that becoming a success in the UFC is no longer merely about win-loss records, but your appeal and marketability to the audience. Despite Bader being a tenacious competitor and truly one of the best in his weight class, the cold hard facts are that Gustafsson is just a much more marketable challenger.

Having given Jones the hardest test in his career, in what was one of the best fights of all time, if Gustafsson is able to claim the title belt while Jones is out of action, this sets up one of the greatest rematches in UFC history, while on the other hand, Bader was dominated and dismantled by Jones in their 2011 affair. Despite having a much more impressive win streak than Gustafsson, Bader is simply not as big a draw as the Swede in the fight against Cormier, or a future unification bout with Jones. Bader did his best by generating some buzz with his confrontation with Cormier at the UFC 187 post-fight press conference (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1OKuNWymjWI)  the mixture between Bader’s arguably dull wrestling style and his future marketability as a champion have put him behind Gustafsson on the list of challengers.

This Bader-Gustafsson situation is not the first of its kind, with many other UFC title challengers getting their shot at gold despite their shortcomings inside the cage. Nick Diaz received his long-awaited shot at GSP despite coming off a pretty clear cut loss to Carlos Condit and over a yearlong layoff. The mixture of Diaz’s villainous personality against the good guy GSP, his beef with St. Pierre and him threatening retirement, the UFC was forced to make this fight happen, generating one of the most hyped welterweight title fights in history. This formula of playing the black hat was the same way Chael Sonnen was able to swindle a light heavyweight title shot against Jon Jones despite not fighting at 205lbs in eight years. Sonnen’s outspoken personality outside the cage and his criticism of Jones made him a headline grabber on all MMA news websites, and an instant fan favourite, again forcing the UFC to make the fight with the dollar signs planted firmly in their eyes.

This use of marketability does not only further fighter’s careers inside the octagon, but the unique mixture of media presence, gaze-drawing personality and in-ring talent can lead to fighters making their fortune and fame through sponsorships and appearances. Paige VanZant may only be 21-years-old and have a 2-0 record in the UFC, but she is a marketing dream being a young, beautiful and talented fighter who perfectly mixes the opposite worlds of blonde bombshell looks and badass fighting skills. This has not only made VanZant one of the most recognisable women in the UFC, but landed her a deal with Reebok, meaning she will presumably get her own branded fight wear and the money that goes with it, not so bad for someone who has only been fighting for three years.

Marrying marketability and in ring skills is the epitome of fight selling potential for all competitors in the UFC, but despite only a few being able to do it well, when it is done correctly, it can produce some MMA superstars. Ronda Rousey is arguably the most famous fighter the UFC has ever had on its roster, and despite being a sensational fighter, it wasn’t her skills alone that brought her to where she is today. The magic behind Rousey is her likeability, you either love her brass, care-free and completely honest personality because its 100% real, or you think she is arrogant and want to see her get beat up. Either way, you want to see her compete and not only does she know this, but so do the UFC and all of her sponsors. Combine this personality with a completely dominant skill set and you have a PPV star that could headline and sell out any stadium on the planet.

Despite marketability becoming an essential part of any UFC champion’s arsenal, it is not without its flaws, something former light heavyweight champion Jon Jones knows too well. Being the youngest champion in UFC history, the best pound for pound fighter on the planet and arguably one of the greatest of all time at just 27, Jon Jones is one of the most marketable fighters the UFC has ever known. His in-ring accomplishments and his provoking personality makes him a fighter no serious MMA fan would ever miss out on watching, but with all this fame in both MMA and the mainstream world, comes the fact that when you are at this level of sporting fame, you are always being watched.

Jon Jones recent out of cage actions from testing positive for cocaine, committing a hit and run on a pregnant woman and his worldwide fame meaning everyone knows about it has drastically affected his marketability as a competitor and poster boy. This was shown when Reebok immediately terminated their sponsorship with him after his most recent car crash, along with the UFC suspending him and stripping him of his title. This will not only affect Jones’ wallet, but also his future career and his legacy. Jones’ career has been constantly marred with out of fighting issues, with his press conference brawl with Cormier leading to him losing his Nike sponsorship as well. Yes, Jon Jones is a fighter and should be judged on his participation inside the cage, but these out of competition failures cannot be overlooked. Being a marketable fighter encompasses a fighters entire life from how he conducts himself with fans and the media to how he performs on fight night.

One man who takes marketability in MMA to heights never before seen is Connor McGregor. Despite only having 5 UFC fights, McGregor is undoubtedly one of the biggest stars in the UFC, rivalling the likes of Jones and Rousey as a media darling and stadium filler. The Irishman’s charm is not only in his fighting skills, but in his approach to the media obligations that come with being a UFC fighter. Conor never misses an opportunity to hype his next fight and ply reporters with quotes for their websites front page. McGregor is arguably the most complete fighter we have in the UFC in terms of encompassing all aspects of being a professional athlete. He is not only dominant in the sport itself, but he knows how to sell himself to the audience and sponsors and market his fights and the UFC as a whole to the world, making him an invaluable member of the UFC’s roster.

Marketing is a part of the UFC and this will only become more apparent as MMA grows. Whether you believe it tampers with the pureness of fighting, or the money it generates will continue to help the sport, being a mixed martial artist in today’s economy has an aspect of selling yourself to the world. Marketing brings pre-fight hype and money in ticket sales and sponsorships to the fighters and promotions, so being an enigmatic and engaging, but still professional competitor should be something all fighters strive for.

While it does have its downsides, ultimately, the best self-promoters out there, the likes of Rousey, Jones and McGregor, make their money before they even step foot in the cage.

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Announcement

Felice Herrig vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz in the works for UFC 223

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UFC 223 looks to add a variety of intriguing bouts. With Paul Felder vs. Al Iaquinta reportedly set for the unannounced UFC 223 card, the promotion looks to add a high stakes female flyweight match-up. According to MMANYTT.com, sources confirmed a bout between Felice Herrig and Karolina Kowalkiewicz, is in the works for the pay-per-view card.

 

Assuming the match-up does come to be, both women have much to gain from a victory. For Herrig, she currently sits on a four-fight win streak. A streak in which the strawweight contender defeated Kailin Curran, Alexa Grasso, Justine Kish, and Cortney Casey. The MMA veteran, Herrig, began fighting professionally in 2009. As of late, her issues with the marketing machine that is the UFC have intensified.

After demonstrating her technical prowess over Justine Kish at UFC Fight Night 122: Chiesa vs. Lee, Herrig put her emotions on display. She stated at the post-fight media scrum, “Sometimes, I feel like, I’m not young and beautiful enough for the UFC to want to promote me. And it’s sad because I’ve really worked so hard to be here and it’s hard to see these people who’ve not been through what I’ve been through. Who just got into the UFC at the right time. They’re getting all these opportunities and I see how hard I work to get here and it’s just like, it doesn’t matter. I just feel like, ‘I’m not pretty enough and I’m not getting any younger'”.

A frustrated Felice Herrig then spoke to MMAJunkie.com in December. She claimed, “Aside from (former UFC women’s strawweight champ) Joanna (Jedrzejczyk), I’m the only strawweight who’s gone on a four-fight winning streak. That’s a fact. At this point, I want to fight someone in the top 10. It doesn’t really make sense for me to keep fighting girls that are ranked below me. That’s the whole point. If I want to keep working my way up. I fight the most dangerous girls outside the top 10”. The #9 ranked women’s flyweight has a point. In her UFC career, she recorded one loss in six appearances. Yet, she has one co-main event booking, while fighters like Michelle Waterson, booked the main event in her second UFC bout. In Waterson’s third bout, she received a co-main event scheduling. Understandably, Felice Herrig is upset with her situation.

Later in her interview, Herrig brought up Kowalkiewicz as a potential next opponent. “For whatever reason, I really want to fight Karolina. I just think that would be an exciting fight… Stylistically, I really like that fight. She’s ranked above (me), and it may be a good gauge for me,” she stated. Right now, it looks like Herrig is close to getting what she wants.

Kowalkiewicz last fought in her native country of Poland on the UFC Fight Pass card, UFC Fight Night 118: Cowboy vs. Till, in October. The Polish star defeated Jody Esquibel, after losing consecutive contests to former UFC female strawweight champion, Joanna Jedrzejcyk and Claudia Gadelha, respectively.

A win for either makes a good case for the next or an eventual title challenger. Kowalkiewicz holds a victory over current division champion, Rose Namajunas. While a win for Herrig would further establish her impressive win streak and undoubtedly give her the boost in the rankings she deserves.

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Bellator

Douglas Lima found out about change to co-main event at Bellator 192 from the internet

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Bellator 192 fight card has gone through a shake-up over the past week. Bellator president Scott Coker revealed last week that the scheduled welterweight title fight between Rory MacDonald and champion Douglas Lima will now be serving as the co-main event and the heavyweight matchup between Chael Sonnen and Rampage Jackson would instead take top billing. At the time no explanation was made for the change. Monday Douglas Lima was a guest on The MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani to discuss this change.

“I was little bummed, but it is what it is, it’s business you know. I was pretty excited you know? Being the main event, having Rampage fight as the co-main event, I was happy there. Then I was bummed out that they changed it back to the co-main event. It’s not going to change a thing for me, I’m just focusing on the fight.”

Lima has been notoriously looked over in the eyes of fight fans. A longtime member of Bellator and a two-time champion has not gotten the notice he deserves and hopes to get.

“I found out through the internet, nobody tells me anything, I didn’t know. the same thing happened in New York, I thought my fight would be before the two main events there, but it ended up being the first fight of the night on Pay-Per-View. Hopefully, it doesn’t take anything away from the fight, you know spotlight and stuff.”

Lima is looking to make all the naysayers take notice at Bellator 192 that takes place at The Forum in Inglewood, Califonia on January 20th.

“This is the fight I’ve been waiting for for a long time. To get my name out there, to get people to know who I am. I’ve been delivering a lot of good fights, fights fans like to watch but no attention yet. I’m hoping though that after a win over Rory this week it will really put my name out there and show all these welterweights out there that I am for real.”

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Fight Announcements

Al Iaquinta vs. Paul Felder rescheduled for UFC 223 in April

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MMA fans around the world wept in deep sorrow when Al Iaquinta withdrew from a bout scheduled for UFC 218 against Paul Felder. Weep no more, for Paul Felder faces Al Iaquinta at UFC 223. Rumblings behind the match-up, first reported by FloCombat.com, came Sunday night before MMAFighting.com confirmed the bout scheduled for unannounced pay-per-view card, later in the evening.

 

The original bout fell through due to a severe knee injury to Iaquinta. He spoke to BJ Penn Radio about the injury nearly a week before the December 2nd, PPV event in Detriot. The Long Island real estate agent claimed, “I tore my PCL and my MCL maybe three or four months ago… for me to really put in a full training camp and do what I need to do, I would’ve had to just focus on fighting and physical therapy… it was the kind of thing where all roads led to me not kind of taking a risk and fighting on December 2nd”.

Iaquinta went on to say, “I kind of accepted the fight, but I never signed a bout agreement… I was kind of told I had to give them an answer pretty quick. It was a fight I thought I really wanted. I thought it was a good stylistic match-up for me, so I accepted the fight, and then thinking about it over the course of a day, we realized it probably wasn’t a smart decision for my health, for everything”.

An outspoken lightweight, he is not the first of his kind. Al Iaquinta is no stranger to idly waiting on the sideline for the UFC to make a move. Contract disputes and other bad strokes of luck left the Serra-Longo with three octagon appearances since 2015. The feud between Iaquinta and the promotion comes as a surprise when looking at the credentials of the aforementioned fighter. With an octagon record of 8-2, he earned notoriety as one of the best lightweights in the world. During his time in the UFC, he defeated Kevin Lee, Ross Pearson, Joe Lauzon, Jorge Masvidal, and most recently Diego Sanchez.

His opponent, “The Irish Dragon”, Paul Felder, holds an impressive UFC record of his own. At 7-3, Felder defeated tough competition as well. His record notes wins over Daron Cruickshank, Jason Saggo, Stevie Ray, and Charles Oliveira. Even more impressive than his record, his knockout ratio. At this stage of his career, Felder knockouts 55% of his opponents (10 knockouts in 18 career pro bouts).

Like his opponent Iaquinta, Paul Felder has a separate career outside of fighting. As many should notice, Felder found a role as a color commentator with the promotion he fights for. Following the footsteps in a long line of fighters before him, Felder announced multiple events alongside another new addition to the UFC broadcast team, Brendan Fitzgerald.

PPV card, UFC 223 and its location are not official yet. Despite a lack of an announcement, the event takes place in Brooklyn, New York at the Barclays Centre, according to multiple reports. Currently, the card features no official bouts. Reports state Felice Herrig vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz (per Jim Edwards), and Evan Dunham vs. Mairbek Taisumov (per Farah Hannoun) are both in the works for UFC 223.

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