Tuesday, 05 August 2014 07:44
By Steve Juon, Wrestling Observer
The original opening paragraph of what you are about to read made no mention of Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier getting into a brawl at Monday's UFC 178 media event at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas. Now that the incident has occurred and been discussed on this site, I'd like to say it doesn't change the conclusion of what you're about to read, unless of course both fighters get suspended by the Nevada State Athletic Commission.
If anything, it actually has even more bearing on the point I'm going to make about why this event is so important for everybody involved.
PPV buyers have historically been split into two groups when discussed by the media. You have "hardcore fans" who are infatuated with a sports promotion, whether a legitimate sport like boxing or MMA or "sports entertainment" like WWE. These are the people you can count on to buy every single event, no matter how many people get injured or drop out of the show, no matter how lackluster the star power is of the main event.
The other group is the "casual fans" who only get interested if the show features a big star, someone they know about from the past or who their friends are talking about because he's a big deal in sports.
It's good to have a source of revenue you can count on as a promoter from the hardcore fans; they'll buy a Demetrious Johnson vs. Ali Bagautinov title fight. DJ is ranked the 4th best pound-for-pound fighter in UFC, and thus theoretically in the world, but he has not crossed over to being a mainstream star. His opponent was a virtual unknown outside people who watch every single UFC fight.
Unfortunately for a PPV event to be a huge success, you need one or both competitors in the main event to have "buzz" by whatever metric you choose to measure it (Google trends, the front page of the sports section, YouTube videos with hundreds of thousands of views, coverage on SportsCenter, you name it). What we learned from UFC 174 is that "hardcore" for the promotion is about 100,000 buyers or slightly less. That will cover your expenses on paper but it's nothing to crow about when talking about how successful your PPV business is.
WWE personality and power broker Triple H was not the first person to coin or use the phrase "what's best for business," but he made it the lynchpin of his campaign against the overwhelming fan support for Daniel Bryan. This was a deliciously deliberate bit of kayfabe because he could make snide remarks in public that reflected the public perception of WWE as "holding Bryan down" while actually causing the fan support to swell and interest in Bryan finally overcoming the odds to increase.
By saying Daniel wasn't "best for business" he actually meant the exact opposite: "This is the guy I'm focusing all of my attention on and this is the guy you should care about."
In a real sport, it's hard to use reverse psychology to that degree. Acting like someone is a terrible box office draw usually helps them be less successful at headlining a PPV. Once in a great while, a dominant champion becomes a PPV draw no matter who their opponent is just by the aura of their dominance, guys like Mike Tyson, Chuck Liddell, Georges St-Pierre and so on. It doesn't hurt that the men I listed all had personalities which made them fan favorites, but their success on PPV often translated to "We expect this guy to destroy whoever is in front of him and we'll pay to see it."
Sometimes it even works in the opposite direction. Some people will pay just HOPING a dominant champion will go down to defeat. A lot of people will buy a Jon Jones fight because they think he's smug or conceited and want to see whoever goes against him take him down a peg or two.
Take him down. Funny how that phrase happens to work out here. Even though a Jones rematch with Alexander Gustafsson was highly anticipated by hardcore fans given that Gustafsson gave him his toughest test to date at UFC 165, casual fans are much more interested in Daniel Cormier. Gustafsson is everything you want on paper as a promoter -- humble, hard working, and willing to play the game and work his way to a title shot.
Rematches are a tricky business though. Sometimes the casual fans are lured in by the buzz, but sometimes even the hardcore fans think that the outcome will be exactly the same, so what's the point? Gustafsson certainly didn't get injured and forfeit his rematch by design, but it turns out to be "what's best for business".
Cormier is also humble and hard working, but he does something that Gustafsson doesn't do nearly as well: he self-promotes. He talks about being the greatest, and since he's undefeated in MMA, no one has yet been able to prove him wrong. He's also been talking about challenging Jones for his title dating back to when he was still a heavyweight. At UFC 173, Cormier took his trash talking to a new level:
"Jon Jones, you can't run away from me forever. I'm the kid at the wrestling tournament that is always in your bracket. No matter where you go, boy, I'm coming. I know nobody can wrestle me so it doesn't matter. If I decide to take Jon Jones down 100 times, I'll take him down 100 times. This is my Octagon, I'm the man."
Cormier already had all of the right things going in. He has the trends on Google, the coverage on SportsCenter, and while you wouldn't expect every man on the street to know who he is, more casual fans are going to recognize his name than Ali Bagautinov. It certainly doesn't hurt that he can regularly be seen as an analyst on UFC Tonight and live pre-UFC panel discussions.
UFC has to be drooling at the prospect of this PPV buyrate. Jones vs. Gustafsson II would have been an excellent fight and would certainly have done a good number, but Jones vs. Cormier will do an even better one. They don't have to fake their mutual dislike of each other, and certainly aren't trying to. They exchange snide remarks on Twitter on an almost daily basis. The casual fans who aren't already aware that this is a grudge years in the making soon will be. UFC knows they have lightning in a bottle here and you can almost certainly expect a slew of countdown specials on television promoting this fight.
Unless one of the two gets injured between now and September 27th, Jones will ultimately be happier once this event takes place as it's likely to be the biggest PPV of his career, win or lose. This is a fight that will lure the public in, and it's the difference between 100,000 and 1 million. The more Triple H talked s#%t about Daniel Bryan, the more that people wanted him to beat Hunter up. I'm not sure who will look like the "good guy" in this feud by the end, but I do know a lot of people will want to see if Cormier really can take Jones down a hundred times.
If Jones is smart, he'll kayfabe just a little bit. Even if he already dislikes Cormier naturally, anything he can do to make himself seem more cocky and arrogant will make people cheer for DC that much harder and ultimately make him more money.
It's what's best for business.