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The much-hyped UFC 229 delivered the goods. In the headliner, Khabib Nurmagomedov delivered yet another tour de force. The co-main event saw Tony Ferguson lit up Anthony Pettis in a virtual bloodbath. In one of the undercards, Derrick Lewis knocked out of Alexander Volkov, who should really need to pass concussion protocols after getting caught by Lewis’s massive swing-for-the-fences right hook.
But UFC 229 is being talked about for an altogether different reason: the post-fight brawl that ensued after the main event. At the center of the scrum, ironically, was the night’s biggest winner in Nurmagomedov, who jumped over the fence to get his hands on BJJ whizkid Dillon Danis. The backlash, predictably, has been immense. Respected columnist Tim Dahlberg even questioned whether the UFC has turned into the WWE, posing the question “Is this UFC or WWE?” in his column about the melee. Dahlberg describes the incident as “predictable,” noting that the sport’s biggest promotion is seemingly promoting “clown behavior” to hype fights and sell tickets.
Brawl resembled a WWE angle
Indeed, the aftermath of UFC 229 was a scene straight out of the WWE, where the “action” tends to spill over to the crowd. There is little doubt the UFC will benefit from this brouhaha despite Dana White’s apparent disgust about the incident. White has repeatedly rebuked those involved, noting the ramifications of their actions, including potential suspensions. Then again, should a rematch happen, it will not be the first time that the UFC will profit from stirring the pot so to speak. After all, the aforementioned McGregor is famous for “selling” fights in ways that would make the WWE proud.
Even the usually mild-mannered Daniel Cormier pulled off his own WWE-style stunt at UFC 226. After knocking out Stipe Miocic, Cormier called out WWE’S Brock Lesnar and engaged him in a “heated” back-and-forth, a confrontation that prompted MMA UK writer Connor Zahariev to make the same UFC-WWE comparison. Zahariev makes a compelling argument, noting that the whole thing was “part of some poorly written script,” and that it did look staged.
There are other ways to engage fans
Fans, though, seem to be lapping up these WWE-esque shenanigans. And why not? They are entertaining, and any added entertainment, manufactured or not, is always a good thing for fans. But rather than dilute its product — MMA at its finest — with WWE-style shenanigans, the UFC should just focus on other ways to improve fan experience. Letting fans watch 4K broadcasts is a step in the right direction, especially for those who can’t watch the fights in person.
Recently, the UFC has even explored virtual reality (VR) as a means to improve fan experience, and this move may pay off handsomely in the future. As Coral points out in its feature on technology and sports, VR gives fans “the chance to get closer to the action” by experiencing “the same pictures and feelings that their heroes experience on a weekly basis.” The time may even come when audiences around the world will be able to get an inside look at a fighter’s dressing room prior to a fight, as was done previously by NASCAR, which gave spectators access to a driver’s meeting in last year’s NASCAR Cup Series Championship finale.
The UFC partnered with Samsung last year, whose Gear VR is now offering fans the chance to watch UFC fights through VR. The partnership’s first broadcast in June 2017 was actually a dandy: José Aldo vs. Max Holloway for featherweight supremacy. Things, obviously, are still being ironed out, but it is still a tantalizing potential fan experience.
Bottom line is that the UFC is increasingly looking like the WWE; but it doesn’t need to be. A great match will sell itself, and if the fighters put on the kind of show they are capable of giving, then the fans will surely be entertained, even without embellishments, like trash talking and all that WWE-esque extra-curricular theatrics.