This weekend, we will see the surging fighter Marvin Vettori take on the trash-talking Kevin Holland at UFC Fight Night: Vettori VS. Holland on ABC.
This was originally booked to be the blow off to a feud built mostly on social media between Vettori and another incredible fighter in Darren Till. Till suffered a broken collarbone during his camp however and was forced to pull out of the main event, only to be replaced by Holland. During the media leading up to this weekend however, Till noted on social media how even though he was not on the card anymore, all either fighter was talking about was Till because he is the true “star”. This statement by Till presents an interesting discussion of “star power” and how much of it is needed to stir up interest in a fight card.
The idea of “star power” is nothing new in MMA. Dating back to the original days of the UFC, the promotion was built around stars such as Royce Gracie and Ken Shamrock. Had it not been for stars or the sport, the UFC may never have emerged as a prominent promotion in the United States. But that being said, we are out of the “dark ages” of MMA. Most sports fans have at least heard of the UFC or Mixed Martial Arts in some capacity, whether they are a fan or not. The casual sports fan could recognize older names such as Tito Ortiz, Chuck Liddell, or Randy Couture, and more recent examples like Jon Jones, Ronda Rousey, or Conor McGregor. So with the notoriety that MMA and individual fighters have today, what is the role of “star power?”
The true value of “star power” in today’s version of MMA is simply viewership. Most diehard MMA fans would have watched this weekend’s card regardless of who was on it. The “star” element comes into play when the UFC can attract the casual viewer to tune it on ABC and more importantly, buy the pay-per-views when the time comes. The element of “star power” is a bit harder to quantify in instances like this weekend, because it becomes a “would/if” question. “Would more people watch this weekend’s card if it was Darren Till in the main event instead of Kevin Holland?” However, when it comes to the champions and the most recognizable names in the sport, pay-per-view sales are easily the best indicator of a star’s power. Conor McGregor is undoubtedly the biggest star in the history of MMA in that regard and even amongst the most diehard MMA viewers, there would not be much push-back to that statement.
A more fun discussion to be had is whether or not you need “stars” to sell fights. Not every fighter in the UFC is a “star.” In fact, most will never become household names to the casual viewer. Lots of fighters that do become “stars” do so because they are incredible inside the octagon and because they can draw you to a card with their “gift of gab.” The idea of “stars” selling fights will never go away. Think of it logically. Conor McGregor, the consensus biggest star in MMA, is not even close to fighting for a championship following his latest loss to Dustin Poirier. However, his next fight, and the fight after that, and so on, will all be UFC pay-per-view main events because he is such a big “star” and the biggest box office draw for the UFC. Entire cards are often times built around “stars” even now when the sport has been seen as more legitimate than ever before. And in a case like this weekend where Darren Till has found himself out of action for some time, maintaining that “star” status is everything for a fighter.
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