The UFC was seemingly cold for a while. The overexposure of events, the lack of new stars, injuries, too many fighters to absorb… it all contributed. But this year they’ve rebounded based off a few big fights, the continued success of Ronda Rousey, and – more recently – the rise of Conor McGregor. And there are some very powerful lessons that need to be learned from that.
McGregor is in a weight division that was ice cold, with a champion that doesn’t draw. But, boy, he’s got the pro-wrestling mentality down pat. Dresses like a star. Talks like a star. Acts like a star. In the the most unlikely division to make a name, he made one by being himself, packaging himself for success, and talking at a level that allowed people to connect to him. UFC saw something special, and put more promotional muscle to get this guy over than anybody they’ve ever promoted.
Adverts during NFL games – with an enormous audience – for his fight with Dennis Siver on FOX called him “the Irish Muhammed Ali” and an expensive worldwide promotional tour hyped his shot at the title. They spared no expense to make him look like a star last Saturday with an incredible production job, including having Sinead O’Connor sing him down the aisle.
Based on all this, he’s gotten over, and all signs point to him being able to draw big money at UFC189 with Chad Mendes, another guy who’d never drawn before, and his eventual fight with Jose Aldo now has sky-high projections.
Seeing his rise makes me so desperately sad as a wrestling fan. The growing realisation of time passing by and the WWE failing year after year to connect as a product, or create a star that means more than just another cast member on the weekly scripted wrestling show.
But the lesson is there, in living colour. If WWE want anybody to ever be a genuine star, they’ve got to loosen the leash. That’s not a new opinion, and hardly any kind of breakthrough here in this article, but for Christ’s sake, if they can’t see that in light of Conor McGregor’s rise I don’t know if they ever will. Here’s a guy that was a nobody, just a guy in a division people don’t care about. One of countless names that appear on the endless cards that UFC run. Yet, even though UFC has the same depth and product overexposure issues in many ways as WWE, they managed to make a brand new star. Which means there’s no excuse for WWE any more.
This problem is especially pronounced in light of the Raw ratings dropping to 1997 levels in recent weeks, and the awful job they’ve done with Seth Rollins. They spent months building to him as champion, and once he ascended to the throne, he’s done nothing unprecedented, nothing that would break through beyond what he was before WrestleMania. Indeed, he’s cast in the exact same light as he was this time last year, and that’s pathetic.
He was the storyline company golden boy, hand-picked in obnoxious fashion by the sometimes-evil bosses, and now he’s the king. By design, he should be everywhere. His face should be a part of the set in much the same way HHH and Stephanie’s were during the early “McMahon/Helmsley Regime” era. He should be dressing like a millionaire at all times, not walking around in a t-shirt. He’s now a made-man. But he doesn’t act like it.
If Seth Rollins doesn’t have the charisma, magnetism, or creativity to talk and get over as this generation’s Ric Flair, then he’s a waste of time as WWE Champion. If WWE don’t do anything special to make him come off like the hot new star, then he won’t get over as anything more than just the guy that holds the belt until the next guy. And clearly, the people are speaking with their remotes.
But this isn’t to pick on Seth, as this isn’t a problem exclusive to him. If Roman Reigns is a two-dimensional babyface going back and forth with the heel of the month, he’s not going to be anything special either. As Conor showed, in a cold environment, it can be done, but when Roman’s personality doesn’t come through and the push isn’t there either, what do they expect?
The only guy that came close to making a real dent in the outside world in recent times was Daniel Bryan, because he felt like he was himself. He connected, and he got to do exceptional things outside wrestling, such as being a part of the San Francisco 49ers victory parade. And yet they never mentioned it. They didn’t try to make him look like a true star. Because they didn’t want that. Dipshits.
No matter how hard Vince, Stephanie or Trips try, WWE will always be a star-driven business. They can try their best to make “the brand” the draw, but it isn’t, and it never will be past a certain point. The difference is made by star power, and it always will be. It’s the reason they pay out the ass for Brock Lesnar and The Rock to save WrestleMania every year, because they know it too, deep down.
But they don’t want it that way, because that takes the power out of their hands, and so they keep everybody inside their own little bubble, and micromanage them to the point of complete homogenisation. And this week, it strikes me more than usual as the dumbest thing in the world.
Alas, they’ll keep doing their 2.5 ratings, fans will still prefer the past, and nobody will get over. Just the way they like it, apparently.
(Editor’s note: this article was written before UFC 189. McGregor beat Mendes to become Interim Featherweight champion, and the PPV did over 1 MILLION estimated buys)