Bellator Casts Stephan Bonnar in American Psycho 2

 

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American Psycho 2: Electric Bugaloo

In 2000, Lions Gate Films released a theatrical version of the Bret Easton Ellis novel American Psycho. Its modest $7 million dollar budget pulled in over $30 million dollars, and Lion’s Gate saw this success as reason enough to release a direct-to-video sequel American Psycho 2 starring a then unknown box office starlet named Mila Kunis.  Fans of the original film and the book saw the release of the sequel as odd (if not confusing), but Lions Gate simply saw an opportunity to make a quick buck off the surprise success of the original film.  In fact, a script for an American Psycho sequel didn’t even exist.  The production company found a script in its archives with a serial killer and worked in a scene with the main character from the original film (someone not named Christian Bale), and attempted to tie it together to the original by throwing the title “American Psycho” on it.  American Psycho 2 currently holds an 18% audience approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, proving it’s difficult to follow up an original with a half-baked sequel, especially if it’s only released to be an ATM machine.

So when word broke this morning that UFC Hall of Famer Stephan Bonnar had signed a new contract to fight in Bellator, many MMA fans also cocked their heads sideways. No one outside of Forrest Griffin or Chuck Liddell has been as much of a UFC company man historically as Stephan Bonnar. In addition to fighting for the UFC, Bonnarwas a familiar voice to WEC broadcasts, calling the action cageside.  So to see him emerge from retirement and jump ship to rival promotion Bellator is as odd, at least as odd as seeing a sequel to a movie with a cult following and modest reviews.

The fact that Bonnar took his nickname The American Psycho from the title of the book & film of the same name is quaint, but when you consider the parallels in the movie’s sequel and Bonnar’s own follow-up to a post-UFC career, the nickname is suddenly more than apropos.  It’s uncanny.

Bonnar will always be linked to his showdown with Forrest Griffin, and that fight will outlive everyone involved in putting it together. Despite your feelings on the way they fought, there is no doubt it was a watershed moment in MMA. There is a pre-TUF/post-TUF demarcation in the history of MMA thanks in part to Stephan Bonnar.  Whatever your feelings are as to the rest of his in-cage bona fides, Bonnar can hang his hat on that, an accomplishment to which few can lay claim.

In the last fight of his UFC career, Bonnar lost to then-middleweight kingpin Anderson Silva in violent fashion.  To add insult to injury, Bonnar later tested positive for the anabolic steroid Drostanolone in said match with Silva.  Bonnar, quietly, retired shortly after the loss.  Still, Bonnar’s fight with Griffin in 2005 gave the UFC its identity and a huge audience, and Dana White announced that he was inducting both Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar into the UFC Hall of Fame in 2013, a huge feather in the cap for someone who never fought in a championship fight let alone won a belt for the promotion.

No one asked for a Stephan Bonnar sequel.  I’m not even sure Scott Coker sought out Bonnar specifically. This seems more of a move by Spike TV who remembers what Bonnar did for the channel back in 2005 when he and Griffin put on the fight that put the UFC (and Spike TV) on the map.  If Bellator plans to build its brand using former UFC fighters as the basis for its future, I doubt it has a long-term strategy in mind.  Having Ortiz, Rampage, Kongo, Couture, and now Bonnar as part of its smells more like a tactical solution than a strategic one. However, what most people may fail to realize is a tactical solution was exactly what the first season of The Ultimate Fighter was.  Tactical solutions can put a plateaued product on the right track as long as there is follow through, as long as there is an evolution into something more strategic. If nothing else, Bonnar’s signing begs the question what will Bellator’s follow through be?  That’s what makes his signing intriguing.

Sure, bemoan the matchups of Bonnar/Ortiz, Bonnar/Rampage, or Bonnar/King-Mo all you’d like. Bonnar himself has already started the promotion digs Tito’s direction in a Bellator press release.  Ready yourself for Tito bringing up Bonnar’s past steroid abuse and for Bonnar lambasting Ortiz’s chronic injury-prone body.  Much like American Psycho 2, Bonnar/Ortiz, Bonnar/Lawal, and BonnarRampage aren’t matchups anyone is clamoring for.  However, sometimes, those things that have the least demand end up delivering the most.  I’m not saying a potential Bonnar/Ortiz matchup will deliver more than a rematch between Will Brooks and Michael Chandler.  I don’t know if Bonnar has enough left to make a run at Bellator’s 205-pound title.  Bellator’s light-heavyweight roster is thin enough that a couple of wins may just find him on the path to title contention.

Bonnar should use Huey Lewis as walkout music.

What I am saying is that I’ve seen American Psycho 2, and it’s not bad.  If you watch it as a movie onto itself outside of the shadow of the first film, it’s a fun flick. If MMA fans can get out from under the shadow Bonnar cast in his UFC run, if they can make room for the possibility that Bonnar is at the very least an entertaining fighter, maybe they can make room for the possibility that Bonnar has a fun fight or two he can contribute under the Bellator banner.  Bonnar/Griffin 1 & The Ultimate Fighter was the avenue by which a whole generation of MMA fans entered the sport.  Stephan Bonnar’s follow-up to his UFC run may not garner the same attention, but it definitely will not go unnoticed. There are many reasons to produce a sequel. Here’s hoping that Stephan Bonnar and Bellator find the right audience.

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:

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1984 - Deathstalker (VHS)

night-of-the-creeps

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:

Malone

SC

theD

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:

UFC_ABU_DHABI_POSTER

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:

Pride3

Pride4

Pride2

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.