Wavell Starr column

The UFC is a hugely popular form of combat sports entertainment throughout the world and is arguably the top drawing company in all of boxing, pro wrestling and mixed martial arts companies that exist today. Note that I stated “combat sports entertainment”. The reason for this is because after spending close to 20 years in the pro wrestling business, I no longer have faith in most sports as being 100% “pure”. Wrestling has made me sceptical of everything from national politics, to the Easter Bunny, to Santa Clause, to the UFC. This is a common occurrence with plenty of wrestlers. Pro wrestling has taught me that when money can be made by creating and manipulating scenarios that appeal to basic emotions, scenarios will be created and manipulated. Though I believe that MMA as a whole, and especially at the amateur levels, is 100% pure sport, I believe that there is some manipulation occurring at the UFC level to maximize revenue potential. The UFC brand is huge; I don’t feel it would be as marketable if there were no manipulation involved.

Think for a moment. There are several matches on a UFC card. If all of them go the distance the card would be extremely long. That would not serve the potential family audiences well as the event would be too long for them. When parents take kids out to say the movies, they expect an event that lasts no more than two hours and then to be back home a half hour after the event. If all matches went the distance they would end up leaving early and not becoming return customers due to the events being too long for the kids. Does this mean that I am insinuating that performers are “taking the fall” for a match? No, not necessarily. I do however believe that the match makers that put together the matches for the events intentionally schedule to have some shorter segments by creating a few mismatches surely to last under a minute. These further serve to hype the crowd as the quick finishes get the crowd in a frenzy. It’s too easy to disregard.

The moment for me when I formed this opinion was when Brock Lesnar became the UFC champion several years ago. In his debut match, he did well but eventually succumbed to an ankle lock submission that came out of nowhere. My conspiracy theory wrestling mindset immediately suggested that the UFC wanted to have him look strong, while at the same time have him appear to have to struggle in order to compete at that level. After all, the brand would have looked weak had he came in and walked over his competition given that he was famous for being a pro wrestler and that pro wrestling has long been exposed as contrived entertainment. Yes, he may have simply been outsmarted and lost fairly, but as I mentioned earlier in the column, I scrutinize such occurrences with a skeptic eye. Again, there is too much money to be made to NOT attempt to manipulate the outcome to at least some degree. I have friends in the business who no longer believe that ANY professional sport that depends on gate revenues to make a profit is pure sport, so though I may be somewhat grizzled, I am at least not as grizzled as some of my colleagues (if that’s any kind of consolation).

Further to this, when Brock Lesnar arrived on the UFC scene, the value of the “promo” immediately became apparent. A straight competition between duelling warriors is marketable indeed, however the drama and public interest becomes exponentially increased when there are personal matters at stake. When controversy erupted after Brock Lesnar stated on live TV that he was going to enjoy some Bud Light (who was not the major sponsor of the event) and spend some quality time with his beautiful wife who was previously a well-known personality on WWE TV as “Sable”, I immediately recognized that he and they (the UFC) were on to something. With one fell swoop, the UFC had now created a villain. Brock Lesnar became the antagonist and the general public could not wait to see the bully get his due. This is the basic premise in pro wrestling so from that perspective it made total sense to create such a character. By referencing real life, behind the scenes issues such as corporate sponsorship and personal relationships, the story line, or “angle” as we refer to it in the wrestling industry instantly became more marketable and I don’t at all believe that it was done by chance.

As the saying goes, money makes the world go round. I realize that my opinion may rub some MMA enthusiasts the wrong way, however I stand by my words. Again, I believe that amateur MMA is a pure sport. It’s the professional variety dependant on gate and pay per view revenues to draw profit that I am more than a little skeptical about. All opinions aside, interest in the UFC is at an all-time high and the crossover appeal is drawing more fans to pro wrestling and other combat sports, and that makes me happy.

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