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Pettis vs. Aldo Highlights Triumphs & Failures of UFC’s Smaller Fighters

Pettis vs. Aldo Highlights Triumphs & Failures of UFC’s Smaller Fighters

Good news: we’re about to see super fights between the top fighters in the 155-and-under weight classes.

Bad news: the super fights are the only kinds of attractions that may actually draw some attention from casual fight fans.

Good news for UFC: fighters in the Lightweight, Featherweight, Bantamweight, and Flyweight weight classes are cheaper to pay than fighters who are Welterweights or heavier. They also tend to be heavy on foreign talent, meaning little or no risk from future lawsuits if anything bad happens since the Ali Act hasn’t been amended to cover MMA.

Bad news for UFC: fighters smaller than Lightweights don’t tend to draw very big PPV buy rates and attract big crowds. You get what you pay for. The UFC has conditioned their fans, many of which are pro-wrestling fans, to look for a certain muscular body type that is ripped to shreds and ready to terrorize. The smaller fighters look like horse jockeys compared to the testosterone-using fighters in heavier weight classes.

Who knew the ghost of WEC would be so dominant in 2014?

Anthony Pettis vs. Jose Aldo and Demetrious Johnson vs. Renan Barao are great superfights that I can’t wait to see. But I’m in the minority and I accept that fact. Nothing worth getting stabbed over.

It’s unfortunate that the smaller fighters haven’t attracted mass fan appeal but it’s also entirely predictable. WEC, under Zuffa’s control, taught us that Urijah Faber was the lead attraction and everyone else was fighting for scraps when it came to ratings and attendance. Donald Cerrone at Lightweight has the best chance of really making money because he’s a lightweight. Ben Henderson has had his chances to become a breakout star but his fighting style has hurt him and most people thought Josh Thomson won their Chicago fight. It is Henderson’s inability to finish Thomson that opened the door for the Pettis/Aldo super fight.

And right now, the only kind of fights featuring smaller fighters that can draw with UFC’s current fan base are the super fights. This is what really separates boxing fans from MMA fans.

Look at the biggest drawing attractions in the last 30 years of boxing. Look at the biggest drawing attractions in the history of the UFC. Size matters to MMA fans and the pro-wrestling connection is a big reason for this. In boxing, the fans appreciate technique & heart as a combination. In MMA, it’s about a certain look combined with power & physicality. The fans have been conditioned by the UFC to buy into a certain kind of fighter. Once that impression was put into place, marketing the smaller fighters became an even bigger challenge.

It’s not as if the UFC hasn’t tried to market the smaller fighters. Demetrious Johnson is Mr. big Fox when it comes to network television fights. The effort has been there to book the fights but not necessarily promote them the way, say, a Mayweather fight would be promoted. Would Gary Shaw, whose track record of promoting MMA fights on network television is better than UFC’s, have been able to figure out a way to market smaller fighters to the masses? That’s a question that we’ll never have a definitive answer to but I don’t think he could be less successful than the UFC has been so far.

What’s the answer to marketing the smaller fighters outside of super fights featuring guys from different weight classes? If you have the answer, you might earn yourself a contract as a consultant with the UFC. They haven’t been able to figure out the magic elixir.

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