Why the UFC doesn't make stars
It's no accident, it's by design.
The UFC has worked very hard to reduce their product to undifferentiated slop because that’s a lot more profitable than having a full stable of stars in every division.
Stars are a handful.
They have established a personal connection with millions of fans.
Fans who have watched them engage in bloodsport for money; one of the most exalted roles in our society.
MMA used to be full of stars.
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In the early 2000s, as a brand new sport with an international market and multiple significant promoters putting on fights, MMA had stars all over the place.
Fighters who were huge in Japan. Fighters who were a reliable draw on the healthy underground regional circuit in the US. Fighters who made nice paydays in Brazil and even better ones in Japan and the States. And after The Ultimate Fighter, fighters who were stars on American cable television and pay-per-view.
In particular, the legendary Japanese promotion PRIDE excelled at making stars. They managed to strike a balance between ridiculous novelty matches and some of the highest quality competition the sport has ever seen.
Regional promotions like Northern California’s Strikeforce or Hawaii’s SuperBrawl made regional stars and occasionally even featured some of the sport’s bigger names from around the world. These were characters whose fame traveled by word of blog, by obsessive YouTube deep dive.
Larger than life stars like Fedor Emelianenko, Mirko Cro-Cop, B.J. Penn, Wanderlei Silva, Rampage Jackson built brands based on matchless execution of violence and outsized one-of-a-kind personalities.
These were individuals.
The UFC, for all its success from 2005 on, didn’t really excel at making stars. Sure they’ve had a few but they insisted on a brutal form of matchmaking that frequently chased talents like Nick Diaz and Mayhem Miller right out of the promotion. At the time some of us complained about this and thought it was a mistake on the UFC’s part.
It wasn’t a mistake. It was a strategy.