Anderson Silva vs. Chael Sonnen, George St Pierre vs. Nick Diaz, Rashad Evans vs. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. These are just a few examples of some of the biggest drawing Pay-Per-View main events the UFC has featured over the last several years. What makes these fights so special? They are unquestionably professional wrestling storylines at their finest. Without a doubt the moment that sentence has been read out there will be a collective groan from the most hardcore of MMA fans and, pro-wrestling ones too for that matter. But when you take the time to analyse the two entities there are more similarities than you may realise. For all WWE’s & UFC’s talk that the other is not competition, deep down they know that not to be the case at all. Anything that is trying to get their fans to part with their hard earned money is competition. Any movie, video-game, sport that wants you the consumer to part with your cash is considered competition to both WWE and UFC. CM Punk even demonstrated as such in his explosive interview this week in his claims that WWE added UFC to Punk’s 90 day “non compete” clause in his contract. If UFC is not considered competition why would WWE have the need to stop Punk from working for them right? The bottom line is that both companies know the score and they are playing it smart by not admitting to the truth. What is interesting is that certain stars of both organisations know the truth and are playing this to their advantage.
Despite several key players in the pro wrestling industry declaring that the “PPV industry is a dying business” there is ample evidence to show this as a bogus claim. Here are some PPV statistics for some key UFC shows over the last few years: Rampage vs. Evans UFC 114 back in 2010 did more than 1,000,000 buys. Weidman vs. Silva 2 UFC 168 in December 2013 did 1,100,000 buys. WrestleMania 28 featuring the main event of The Rock vs. John Cena in April 2012 did 1,200,000 buys. The numbers do not lie. If anything they reveal the truth behind the Pay-Per-View business and it is the same as it always has been. That is that if a promotion has an event that is strong enough and compels you to want to watch it you will grow to great lengths to be able to pay to watch it. In an era where all different media forms are pirated more than ever, fans have the ability to get the content they want however they want to. These numbers do represent fans desire to want to be able to watch the big shows and pay for them accordingly. This brings us to what makes a big show? In both WWE and UFC without question the in ring/cage action certainly is a massive motivating factor. But you have to consider not all WWE and MMA fans think of their respective promotion in the same way that Vince McMahon and Dana White do. They won’t watch every show going just because it might be a great match or a great fight. There needs to be the extra incentive to want to part with your money. This is where a great build up comes in.
Professional wrestling has always had the upper hand over MMA competition when it comes to the building of a personal rivalry between one or more combatants. After all they are scripted sometimes months in advance to map out the direction in which they are going. Cynics will point out this isn’t always the case and again as CM Punk stated in his interview this week that was a huge source of frustration for him. Yet when WWE does have an idea of what they want to put in place you can argue there is no one better. The build to The Rock vs. John Cena was one whole year in the making. Was it perfect? Absolutely not. Was it effective? Go back and check the PPV buyrate listed earlier and answer that one for yourself. In recent memory there have been several notable UFC fighters trying to in a roundabout way “borrow” from WWE to add that little extra something to their upcoming fight. There was no one who did a better job at this than former UFC Middleweight title contender Chael Sonnen. For those who don’t know Chael was a competitive fighter in the UFC’s middleweight division which was then led by former title kingpin and undisputed pound for pound greatest fighter in the world Anderson Silva. Whilst Chael was competitive against some of the top names within the division he wasn’t a standout star and even lost to jiu jitsu wizard Demian Maia who went on to challenge and lose to Anderson in a notoriously boring 5 round title fight. When Chael was given the chance to take on Anderson for the UFC’s Middleweight Championship he knew he needed to do something to make the build up to the fight memorable. After all the personal issues between fighters/wrestlers are what really stands out in fans minds. You want to get excited for the upcoming event and nothing will do this more than if the two athletes have a personal issue against the other. Where Sonnen shined was in his promos. No one cut a more effective promo against the division champion ever in UFC history. Mocking Silva more than any other fighter had ever done the Anderson Silva who showed up to the weigh in’s vs. Chael was a notably different one from the respectable Brazilian in his prior championship fights. Chael Sonnen did the impossible. He took a fight that no one cared about and with his promo’s alone turned it into a can’t miss event. The fact that the fight itself turned out to be one of the most dramatic 5 round affairs in UFC history made it all the more memorable. Chael Sonnen made himself a star. In pro-wrestling terms he got himself over. Ever since that fight he continued to play up the trash-talking over the top “gangster” persona that he created and it worked. His promos were sometimes the highlights of his fights and even Fox Sports wanted to hop on the bandwagon and hired him to be an analyst for their shows covering UFC.
Looking at the UFC roster today and the next guy who just seems to get it is Connor McGregor. He is another example of a fighter who knows how to maximise his promo time post fight and when asked a question uses the time he has to promote himself and his fights. He currently fights in the UFC’s featherweight division which suffice to say before he came along no one outside of the hardcore fan-base cared about. Now he has the featherweight division being one of the most talked about on the entire UFC roster. Not content with simply verbally jousting with fellow UFC employees he has taken to twitter to recently get into it with WWE superstar Sheamus. This only make Connor seem more mainstream if he is able to grab the attention of people outside of UFC.
Of course it is near impossible to talk about MMA and WWE without mentioning Brock Lesnar. There can be no question that when Brock left WWE back in 2004 and joined the ranks of the UFC and quickly became their heavyweight champion he brought a tour de force of WWE fans with him. What is intriguing is that when he returned to WWE whilst he didn’t completely fall flat in terms of PPV attraction, he hasn’t set the world on fire the way he did in UFC. Now you can’t blame Brock solely for this, as after all there have been questionable judgement calls such as a Triple H, Brock Lesnar rematch as well as a return bout for the WWE World Heavyweight Championship at Night of Champions this year. It seems that when used correctly Brock does add something to the shows he is on and whether fans want to admit as such there can be no denying the atmosphere of a Brock Lesnar match. You feel as if you are watching something special when you see him work. The fact WWE has strived to keep his MMA image is a sign that they realised how important his profile is amongst their audiences and the UFC’s too.
This brings us right back full circle to both Vince McMahon and Dana White realising they are in competition with the other.
People don’t often talk about it but more often than not being a fan of the pro wrestling business can be hard. Nearly every fan has at some point in their life been a victim of the abuse that comes along with being a fan of sports entertainment.
“You know it’s all fake right?”
You wouldn’t fathom saying something like that to an adult watching the latest Avengers movie at the cinema. It just wouldn’t happen. So what is it about the MMA world that makes wrestling fans feel so comfortable? Why is there such a cross-over appeal? For your writer it is down to the fact that professional wrestling and MMA are different but only in the sense that one is scripted and the other is not. Take a look at WWE and UFC and a lot of the same moves/holds are applied. Former WWE superstars CM Punk and Alberto Del Rio most famously used many an MMA hold in their matches. Former and current UFC stars use the over the top soap opera aspect of WWE to make their rivalries seem more important to the viewer. UFC Light Heavyweight Champion and current no 1 contender for that title Daniel Cormier had a pull apart brawl at one of their stare downs. Condemned by the mass media however the UFC is smarter than that. They know that is what fans want to see. In the build up to their title fight they will play that footage for all its worth and why? The majority of UFC/MMA fans want to see more than just fighting and WWE fans want to see more than just wrestling.
These two unique sets of fans aren’t really separate groups at all.