The delicate dance of the blurred lines between scripted sports entertainment and pure sports entertainment is under discussion again after Chael Sonnen and Jon Jones’ appearance on the Opie and Anthony Show on Sirius XM Radio promoting the Ultimate Fighter and UFC 159.
While the two sports are different, their ppv promotion models are very similar and now with recent comments from UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Jones it looks like more and more fighters are starting to look towards incorporating classic pro wrestling builds and personas to sell their fights.
Chael Sonnen is one such fighter who amps up his “character” come fight time in the world of UFC and his upcoming opponent Jon Jones is taking notice.
Jon Jones: Chael’s actually a pretty solid character. When it’s time for him to promote a fight he’s gonna do a phenomenal job. This guy will say whatever comes to his mind and it’s a style I wasn’t used to at first. I mean I see the value in it.
I actually watched my very first WWE show just like a few nights ago, I watched it from the very start to the very end. And I was like you know let me take a little notes here. I think there’s a little entertainment factor that our sport could use and so I think it’s refreshing.
Jon Jones even floated out during the O+A interview the possibility for appearing with WWE one day. If so he has a readymade feud with the Best In The World.
The last sentence of Jones’ quote is certainly not what MMA purists want to hear. We’ve heard time and time again that these fans don’t want pro wrestling elements introduced into their sport for fear of being associated with a scripted sport. We’ve been told they don’t want the flashier entertainment elements and want more “sports” fans into the fold.
It’s a valid argument I suppose. The more pro-wrestling-like your product seems people will question its legitimacy. But think of how boxing has gone down the tubes in the past decade. There aren’t many recognizable names i.e. marketable characters to draw in pay-per-view buys.
Now there’s no question Sonnen and Jones are marketable names. The build to their fight started out very “pro wrestling,” but after months of name calling back and forth, the pair have shown up in recent media interviews acting like buddies, sparking some criticism.
MMA is getting criticized for not being enough like pro wrestling? It’s not as crazy as you’d think. CM Punk in an interview this week with the man I wish I was, Ariel Helwani addressed this “disconnect” and Jones’ comments.
CM Punk: Fights that are more interesting that most, they have an issue. I hate this guy. I do think there might be a little bit of a disconnect with the larger audience if they see guys paling around, unless they’re best friends.
I think the general public the general population they like it better when its more of a GSP- Nate Diaz thing, “oh those two hate each other.” The buzz about me and Rock is we can’t stand each other and I hate him because he’s a part time wrestler and he’s coming back, and that’s great. Whatever generates more business and more dollars in your pocket that’s a good thing and that’s always what Chael has understood.
On Jon Jones watching more wrestling:
They’re so similar what I do and what the fighters do and I think it’s the stark differences are when the cage door closes or when the bell rings. Everything else, the promotion, personality, having characters selling a fight, I think a lot of guys can “steal” a lot of things from pro wrestling.
I think the fighters are in the right over the “purists” in this instance. Sizzle pulls in viewers. Getting people talking is great. Two fighters talking smack to each other is much more entertaining than two men who tow a no smack-talk “respect” line.
Being an MMA fighter who is fun to watch both in and outside the ring will mean more fights, more money, headlining cards, and the ability to become a mega-star. Sound familiar? The more “over” you get with the crowd in WWE, the likelihood is you’ll get the push and the likelihood is you’ll be come a face of the company.
Yes Wrestling is scripted but like UFC Fighters these men are also athletes. From cases like CM Punk and Chael Sonnen, it’s clear many fighters and many wrestlers have a mutual respect going on. MMA’s influence on current day WWE is undeniable. CM Punk is documented to be training with Rener Gracie, he and Daniel Bryan incorporate MMA into their matches. Alberto Del Rio’s cross arm breaker? MMA Armbar without pinching his knees to lock it in fully.
If it’s okay for wrestlers to incorporate MMA moves into their repertoires to amp up the realism, I think fighters for UFC should take a cue from Jones and Sonnen and incorporate pro wrestling’s promotional elements into their repertories.
What’s truly ironic is that UFC/MMA is experiencing the dilemma that resulted in the evolution of professional wrestling. The Champ explains it better than I could:
CM Punk: There’s still the staunch MMA, you can’t even call them purists, half of them watched since UFC debuted on Fox, they’re know it alls, “You can’t like pro-wrestling, because its fake!” They’ll never see the parallels between my business and MMA. They’ll never realize that like, pro wrestling started, just like MMA. That it was the toughest guys, and one of them got smart and said, instead of you really beating the crap out of me, I’m gonna let you win and I’m gonna get more money than you. And that guy was like, “Oh I’m gonna win that’s cool.” What’s more valuable to you, The money or the prestige of being the toughest guy?
Analyzing this situation, while I initialy disagreed, I can start to see Vince McMahon’s reasoning for pulling Punk from appearing on a UFC card last year. They are competition. Maybe this is another case where WWE is way ahead of us in recognizing these similarities.
Are UFC fighters going to be jumping off an octagon through a table soon? No, that’s not what I’m saying, but personally, credibility be damnned. Muhammad Ali is one of the most respected and successful boxers in history, had an association with pro wrestling because he got it. He got how incorporating the larger than life character into his business could make money. While it may be prudent for WWE to view UFC as a rival, UFC should embrace these elements into their product.
For what it’s worth, the two fighters had predictable predictions for this Sunday’s Royal Rumble: Chael Sonnen-CM Punk & Jon Jones- The Rock.
Check out the full Punk-Helwani interview: HERE
Check out the Sonnen-Jones interview from Opie and Anthony: HERE