Marketing Collateral Damage: The UFC’s Marketing Department Should Do Better

As an 80s child and growing up in the era of video clubs (not video stores like Blockbuster, but little mom and pop video clubs where you had to pay $10 a month to rent videos), one of the things I found most magical was VHS cover art.  I’d comb through aisles, not necessarily looking for anything in particular, but looking to the cassette cover art for videos I would have never be able to rent because I was underage.

The fantasy/sci-fi section always had the best cover art simply because of the genre, but the best cover art also seemed to always have similar traits: they were rendered illustrations, they showed not only the characters but the setting, and they tried to have a really interesting tagline.  They did more than inform.  In short, they told a story.  Some of the gems I remember from my youth included:


1984 - Deathstalker (VHS)


That’s not to say just because they had interesting or attention-getting artwork that the movie was necessarily good, but it did the job.  It got me hooked enough to want to invest time to see the movie.  The opposite could also be said for the movies where the marketing department simply mailed it in.  Nothing about the following movies really stood out, and so I never made the attempt to see any of them (except for Stone Cold, that movie is a guilty pleasure even if the cover art was lousy), and I dare you to say that any of these look remotely interesting:




Honestly, there is an art to marketing posters that seems to be lost on the UFC’s marketing department.  Fight fans are days away from the second-ever event in Abu-Dhabi with a card that can only be seen on the UFC’s Fight Pass subscription service, featuring a main event between heavyweights Big Nog, Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira and Roy Big Country Nelson (a battle of the Bigs!), and this is what the UFC’s marketing department has trotted out to entice viewers who don’t already subscribe to the service:


Click to embiggen… everything but Big Nog’s Arm.

This is the official poster for the event.  Someone looked at this and said, “Oh yeah.  That’s the one.” Cue the sad trombone.

Forget for the moment that Big Nog has an atrophied left arm.  Forget the fact that said arm has Roy Nelson’s right arm moving through it like a ghost.  Forget the fact that Big Country’s head is contorted into a position that could only happen if the bones in his neck were removed.  Forget the fact that they have shaved down the one part of the body that Roy Nelson finds the most marketable about himself outside of his hair.  Really forget about all of this.  We should all be so lucky.

Shouldn’t consumers expect more? Shouldn’t the UFC expect more? After all, it puts a great deal of emphasis on making sure its fighters perform to the satisfaction of its fans as well as the promotion. With the expansion of events in 2014 due to Fight Pass and the need for more quality fighters to fill those cards, perhaps the UFC’s marketing department needs performance incentives as well because the marketing collateral for UFC Fight Night: Nogueira vs. Nelson shouldn’t have made it past the draft stage.

By in large, the UFC’s posters are stylized to one speed: informative.  There is a checklist/style guide, and the UFC sticks to it with some regularity:

  • photo of the main event/featured fighters
  • logo
  • date
  • location
  • sponsors

No muss, no fuss. It’s a pretty hard formula to screw up, but it’s effective.  It follows a similar pattern already put in place and doesn’t rock the boat.  However, with the new subscription-based service still in its infancy, it seems that the marketing machine at the UFC’s disposal would want to do everything it can to advertise Fight Pass as something unique.  There’s an opportunity there.

The “hardcore” MMA fans have had this discussion for years, especially regarding the comparisons to the posters Pride FC would use to advertise their events.  With the Pride FC posters, the marketing materials were small works of art that caught the eye:




Yes, the audience and Japanese market is different, and the product itself was different, and maybe it doesn’t make sense for the UFC to adopt the exact same style to advertise its own events stateside, but it seems as though the Fight Pass service deserves something more unique than the same one used for the PPV model, especially with the customer facing materials it produces.

To the UFC’s credit, it does move away from the traditional mold occasionally (hello gorgeous), and even it misses the mark now and again (I’m looking at you UFC 122), it at least calls enough attention to itself that it makes the average customer do a double take.  That’s never a bad thing.

The risk in using a formula that is tried and true is that the output becomes formulaic.  There is little room for surprise or opportunity in something templatized.  The posters then become a metaphor for the bigger issues the UFC seems to be struggling with as it grows.  After all, how does a marketing machine justify something special for a card headlined by Jimi Manua and Nate Marquardt when the fight itself raises eyebrows?

The UFC may not be able to make each card a unique and wonderful snowflake, but it can at least act like each card is a unique and wonderful snowflake.  Or it can at least do the public the courtesy of lying to them in the marketing materials.

Wrestlemania XXX vs. Game of Thrones Season 4 Premiere


Of all the weekends to go without a major MMA event (sorry, but Kongo pulling at Vitaly Minakov’s shorts for 25 minutes and Minakov’s striking Kongo in the testicles doesn’t cut it), the UFC picked the perfect weekend to go dark.  Between the Final Four and NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway in my own backyard of North Texas, the end of the NBA’s regular season, and Wrestlemania 30, a UFC card would have been a bridge too far.  And this is just the sports (and sports entertainment) arena.  For the dramatic contingent among you, the zombie apocalypse that is Walking Dead Sundays is replaced by the return of Game of Thrones.

My affection for MMA came about as a direct result of following pro wrestling (though that’s a more personal story for another time). My father grew up watching Dory Funk Senior, Jose Lothario, and the AWA in Minnesota.  When as a kid I found out we were moving to Dallas the one saving grace that I was leaving behind friends and family was the knowledge that we would be living in the same Metroplex with the Von Erichs and World Class Championship Wrestling.  It was like living in the same town with Zeus. In my house, pro wrestling fandom was a tradition.

As a child of the 80s, I grew up during the WWF’s expansion from a regional promotion to a national powerhouse, and even through the 90s as a global entity.  However, it’s been 10 years since I last bought a WWE PPV, Wrestlemania, specifically.  Interestingly enough, that card was punctuated with wins by Chris Benoit and Eddie Guerrero as much as it was by the exits of Brock Lesnar and Bill Goldberg, who would both later try their hands in the MMA world (Goldberg as a commentator for EliteXC and Lesnar as UFC heavyweight champion).

I still watch wrestling off and on on Monday nights, though mostly as a counterbalance for my son.  He loves the spectacle and the characters, and I love his reaction when someone takes a hard bump from a competitor flying through the air.  He suspends his disbelief, and I hope he continues to do so for as long as possible.  I want it to continue to be real to him, damnit even if my household won’t be ordering the PPV this evening.

Brienne of Tarth would own Chyna.

Online, in the brief piece by Steph Daniels, the list of fighters is vocal and resolute. On Twitter, the fight pundits seem to be split between two camps: The Game of Thrones acolytes and the disciples of Wrestlemania (all of the wrestling fans should have gotten a giggle with the acolytes reference).  I cannot deny I am intrigued by the thought of ordering Wrestlemania.  The rumor is that Sting could make an appearance, his first time in the WWE.  Daniel Bryan, who has a thin link to the MMA world, is also competing.  I know my son would get a kick out of seeing a ring full of superstars in a battle royale.  I understand the allure from a spectacle perspective (it’s been thirty years), from the story perspective (will Daniel Bryan finally get the nod), and from the historical perspective (can the Undertaker keep the streak alive). However, I can’t bring myself to by the PPV or the WWE network based upon my sense of nostalgia.

More intriguing to me is the gentle ribbing and barbs one camp has had for the other regarding the others’ choice in Sunday’s entertainment:

Count me in the camp that will be tuning into the goings-on of Westeros simply because of the immediacy.  There are only 10 episodes of Game of Thrones, so there is very little in the way of filler or cooler. Each episode becomes an event, and after the tragedies of season 3, there is a lot to resolve in no short order (when Joffrey finally gets his, please let it be in the slowest and most painful of ways but not before he sends his father/uncle’s head to a pike).   I make no apologies about my choice of poison.  Besides, how are dragons, The Hound, and King Joffrey any different from Ricky the Dragon Steamboat’s dragon, The Undertaker, and Stephanie McMahon Helmsley?  Sure, Daniel Bryan’s beard may be more epic than Jon Snow’s beard, but he knows nothing anyway.  Also, Tyrion Lannister > Hornswaggle.


When You Mix Fight Club & Church Club, You Get Clubbed Alright


Sadly, this is not a fake trailer:

Two things: there are all kinds of wrong with this trailer; and, I will definitely be watching this.

I hate to judge a movie based on a trailer (I made that mistake with Star Wars Episode 1), but because this hits close to home with me being a Christian and a fight fan, here are some quick, knee-jerk reactions that are probably just as wrong as what’s in that trailer:

  • 0:36 – That’s a lot of dudes… Women also fight, so I wonder if any were invited to join the church’s fight club. I never trust any church that has velvet ropes for some members and not for others.
  • 0:41 – “Tough guys need Jesus, too.” I’d argue that’s really limiting.
  • 0:43 – “You guys like to see me fight another pastor?” Paging Joel Osteen.
  • 0:55 – “Tonight we got to fight and then we talk about Jesus tomorrow when we go to church.” This is actually the most insulting aspect of the trailer. Christians are commanded to put God first, before anything, so to stop putting him first for the duration of the fight and pick things up after seems pretty egregious for a Christian to say.   Or to say we only talk about Jesus “tomorrow” or “in church” also seems real limiting.
  • 1:02 – “The tradition of which I am a part is that we would love one another, and this ain’t love.” True, “this ain’t love”.  It’s a sport.  However, I wonder if this guy extends the same love to everyone, across the board. It’s easy to say, harder to practice.  If you’re that committed to love, get to loving and stop proselytizing. Show me the love, man!
  • 1:06 – “At the end of the day, it’s about reaching people with the gospel, regardless of what you do to introduce them into a relationship with Jesus Christ.”  Uh, reaching with the gospel is one thing, but an MMA fight ain’t the gospel.  It’s an MMA fight.  It’s like saying , “I’m going to win over people to Christ through shoemaking.”
  • 1:17 – The footage with Benson Henderson is a great example of a guy who has never been shy about his love of God or his relationship with Christ.  I don’t know how big a part Benson has in this film, but I bet it’s there (along with the Jon Jones footage) as a prop.  Focusing on one man, his faith, and his fulltime job seems like it would make for a more compelling look at both worlds.  As it stands I don’t think either Christianity or MMA is going to come out looking good when this movie is released, which wouldn’t be the first time for either.
  • 1:30 – “Mainstream Christianity has feminized men. If we would raise our boys to be men, these kind of problems would go away.” This guy again?  Is feminizing like Martinizing?  Using the gospel to justify some macho fantasy about “de-feminizing” boys is about as good a use of the Bible as using it to power your car.  Shouldn’t Christians be attempting to raise their children to be more like Christ and having the faith to let the rest sort itself out according to God’s plans for their kids?   Besides, the guy here could use some feminizing.
  • 1:40 – “Cagefighting doesn’t speak about loving one another; cagefighting is about hating one another basically.”  This guy again, too?  Ugh.  “Cagefighting” isn’t about loving or hating.  It’s a competition. Love and hate play as much of a role in a “cagefight” as they do in building a model airplane.
  • 1:48 – As the pastor puts his kid into a fight, “God said don’t be afraid.”  Surely there is a better example to show how to teach a child to not be afraid? As a Christian man, I don’t fear (at least I try not to).  I don’t fear busses or alligators or crossbows.  But that also doesn’t mean I go walking in front of moving busses, wrestle with alligators, or juggle crossbows.   Acting on any of those things doesn’t prove to the world that I’m not afraid.  That’s ego. Giving in to trying to prove I’m not afraid means I’ve already lost and am giving in to the very fear I’m trying to show everyone doesn’t bother me.  There’s a difference between someone of faith being persecuted and not being afraid of that persecution, and a ditzy father thinking that putting his kid in a fight with another kid is going to teach him to trust in God and not be afraid.  Also, MMA isn’t a sport for kids. Their bodies are not fully developed.  MMA is also not a metaphor.
  • 2:00 – “Jesus never tapped out…” Well, yes he did.  He submitted to God’s plan as all Christians are called to do.  Submission to God is part and parcel to the gospel.
  • 2:17 – “Can you love your neighbor as yourself, and then at the same time, knee him in the face as hard as you can?” This depends.  Lyoto Machida, Mark Munoz, Jon Jones, and Alexander Gustafsson say yes.  Ronda Rousey and Brock Lesnar say no.

This whole trailer and idea of a church fight club feels like a weird offshoot of the same warped following that the movie Fight Club has. The Fight Club fanatics who love the movie (not even the book mind you just the ideas of the book and movie), seem to miss the point no matter how many times they watch it.  Maybe that’s the correlation since too many Christians who love quoting the Bible are only looking to the Cliff notes and can’t be bothered to actually read it.

Anyway, stepping off the soapbox.  This looks like a real interesting kind of train wreck.  I can only imagine the reactions from Benson Henderson and Jon Joes (or even the UFC) once the film is released.

Original fight club

Happy Birthday Vitor Belfort: What to Get the MMA Fighter Who Wants Everything

Vitor in his UFC return at UFC 103

Vitor in his UFC return at UFC 103

Vitor Belfort turns 37 today thereby cementing the handle of “The Old Vitor”.

Speaking of “The Old Vitor,” here’s a flashback to a teenaged Vitor Belfort in his second UFC fight.  He was so new and fresh-faced, then-interviewer Joe Rogan refers to him as Victor (something my spellcheck has wanted to do for this entire piece).

New Vitor, Old Vitor, TRT Vitor, Gluten-Free Vitor… whatever adjective is added, Vitor remains one of the most interesting fighters of the last decade and a half.   He may be one year older, but with all of the TRT talk in the last six months, and after pulling out of a title fight against Chris Weidman due to the new ban on testosterone replacement therapy by the Nevada state Athletic Commission, most have dismissed him as being done.  It wouldn’t surprise me, but in MMA, a fighter fighting into his 40s isn’t exactly an anomaly.  Now, whether or not those same fighters can still be competitive after 40 is a different argument and one that gets convoluted now that the TRT loop has been closed.

What could Vitor want more than anything for his birthday?  A title shot?  After all title shots aren’t just given out like birthday presents. But, Vitor just returned his last one.

How about simply a good life and good health? For the average person, such a wish falls in line with receiving a new pair of socks.  However, in sport where competitors take punches to the face, this seems like an appropriate enough gift.

That being said, Vitor seems open to just about anything you want to send his way:

The world awaits the birthday gift Michael Bisping is sending to Vitor.

Breakfast Battle Royale (With Cheese)

In non-MMA news, but still fight news, Taco Bell fired shots at McDonald’s, specifically, McDonald’s breakfast menu:

The restaurant (and I use that term in the loosest sense) will take on the breakfast market and McDonald’s breakfast menu specifically.  In Chael Sonnen-like fashion, the innovators of the Doritos Loco Tacos and the Draino of the human digestive system began airing ads over the last few days poking the bear by including testimonies of random people named Ronald McDonald, praising the breakfast menu at Taco Bell as greater than McDonald’s.

When asked for comment, my wife, an avid breakfast fan responded, “I don’t know what we as Americans did to deserve a Taco Bell breakfast menu, but I’m sure we can take it back.”

Much like Alien vs. Predator, whichever company wins in the breakfast one-on-one, we lose.