Over the course of a month, UFC Flyweight Champion Demetrious Johnson has gone from the most unheralded UFC champion, to the most interesting man in MMA. The normally nondescript Johnson has been rather outspoken lately, grabbing headlines mostly for his comments about Ronda Rousey. But his revelations about his financial efficiency present the UFC with a unique opportunity to promote their most dominant champion.
In the same interview where Johnson told Sports Illustrated’s Jon Wertheim that Ronda Rousey needed to, “grow the f— up” Johnson also revealed that his approach to his finances is like his approach to fighting. Johnson appears to fight not to become a master of the MMA universe, but for him it is an investment in his financial future.
Johnson works to support his family, he is the best at his profession, and is grossly underpaid as opposed to his more vocal peers; he is in the same paradigm as so many average citizens.
The UFC has had an unbearably difficult time selling Demetrious Johnson to their core audience. Despite being a virtuoso in the Octagon, Johnson does not fit any of the popular UFC archetype’s.
He is not a showman like Conor McGregor, nor is he an awe-inspiring athletic physical specimen like Jon Jones, and he is not an affable party boy in the vein of Donald Cerrone. To put it bluntly, Johnson is boring in contrast to other fighters, but that does not mean that he is not relatable to the public.
A few months back, this column argued that the UFC often fails to promote those who do not fit a very specific mold. Specifically, it was noted that Johnson can bring in those who identify with video game culture, but that demographic is admittedly limited, while the everyman can have mass appeal.
In a bygone era, the UFC sold stars like Randy Couture and Chuck Liddell based partially on the idea that these were men who had similar vulnerabilities to the paying audience, only to be blessed with the ability to fight at an exceptional level.
This is not dissimilar to someone like Johnson who proudly saved his per diem money to purchase an expensive watch, while he diligently saves his UFC prize money in hopes that he will retire comfortably.
Sure, economic frugality is not the most exciting concept in all of sports, but it is something that those who must weigh the consequences of purchasing a $60 pay-per-view can absolutely relate to.
Of course, Demetrious Johnson’s commitment to financial discipline might not be a practice that the UFC wishes to highlight.
After all, the idea that Johnson is very self-aware about the limitations of future financial prospects, is something that the UFC might not want to broadcast to the mainstream. Doing so would be an unconventional method of promoting the brand of UFC.
However, history has taught us that conventional promotion does not work with Demetrious Johnson.
In an era where the UFC is struggling to find consistent stars, they would be wise to solve the puzzle of promoting their most consistent fighter.
NOW CHECK OUT LAST WEEK’S COLUMN: MEDIA & BUSINESS: Did UFC 211 Create New Stars? Evaluating the post-PPV bump for Miocic, Jedrzejczyk, Demian Maia, Frankie Edgar