MMA Stardom: The By-Products

September 9, 2009

While it has yet to be officially announced, Rampage Jackson vs. Rashad Evans has been scrapped from the UFC 107 fight card slated for December 12th in Memphis, Tennessee. The highly anticipated grudge match between Jackson and Evans has been pushed back on the ostensible account of Jackson’s involvement with the new A-Team movie.

Yesterday, Rashad Evans confirmed with Sherdog radio that the bout was indeed postponed (summary provided by MMA Junkie):

“It’s definitely off for the 12th,” Evans said. “It’s just disappointing because as a fighter you get your mind wrapped around when you’re going to have to fight. Then you kind of just gear up toward it and put everything in place for that time. You take care of a lot of things you need to take care of so when you’re in camp you don’t have to worry about it. To find out its not going to be happening when you want it to happen is always a little bit of a letdown.”

While multiple outlets have reported on the potential for Jackson to take on the role of B.A. Baracus in a feature version of “The A-Team,” Evans said until recently he believed it wasn’t going to happen.

“I heard a little bit about it at the last UFC, 102, and (UFC president) Dana (White) said he was working to resolve the issue, and he was pretty confident that he was going to have some kind of resolution by the end of the week,” Evans said. “But then things must have took a turn for the worse and it wasn’t going to be resolved. The end result was him definitely pulling out.”

While White made his feelings on the subject obvious at a pre-UFC 102 press conference, Evans echoed the sentiments that fighters should stick to what they do best.

“I would stick with my obligations to do the fight (if I was in the same situation),” Evans said. “I know that he has an amazing opportunity to do this acting role, but then at the same time, at the end of the day he’s still going to be just a fighter. He’s not going to be an actor.”

Payout Perspective:

The business issue is really not that the fight was postponed. Rampage vs. Rashad will more than likely happen in early 2010, and should Rampage agree to that fight in a timely matter, it may even allow the UFC to begin promoting the event while TUF 10 is still running (i.e., the UFC may not even skip a beat).

The much larger, big picture issue here is that of the UFC’s new found problem: dealing with the consequences and by-products of its own success. Gone are the days where just making money, changing the sport’s public perception, and seeking legalization were the hot-button topics. Now the UFC must learn to deal with its own popularity and that of its fighters, lest it become a victim of its own success.

Last month discussed why fighting ability was the most critical ingredient necessary to build an MMA star. But what happens when that star is born? How does an organization like the UFC ensure it receives an adequate return on the time, money, and promotional effort that it has invested in a fighter?

It starts with assessing each individual: why do they fight and what do they want from their career?

In the case of Rampage Jackson, it’s never really been about the fighting – it’s been about the money. He may like to fight, but he’d probably be doing something else if he weren’t getting paid. That suggests that fighting isn’t the only thing on his priority list – other money making opportunities are on his radar – and therefore his commitment level to the organization isn’t going to be tremendously high.

Is there anything wrong with that? Not every fighter is going to be cut from the same cloth as Georges St. Pierre; not every fighter is going to fight just for the sake of competition. Some fighters fight for money, some fight for fame, some fight for women, and some fight for a combination of all of those things. It may be fly in the face of the traditional martial arts mantra, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with that.

Rampage now has an opportunity to seek some non-MMA related income that doesn’t depend on him getting punched in the face. It’s not just the initial movie salary, either, but the future royalties that will come to him if the movie is any sort of success. The prospect of Rampage gaining more fans and improving his draw as an MMA fighter is also there. The only risk, of course, is that Rampage takes his focus off of fighting that it’s a detriment to his in-cage fighting ability – at that point he risks not just his place in the UFC, but also his main source of income.

Many are going to argue – just like Dana White and Rashad Evans have – that Rampage should stick to what he does best. I’m inclined to agree, because if money is ultimately what’s most important for Rampage, his best, long term shot probably lies with the UFC. Although, it’s easy to see that White and Evans have personal/business motivations that have biased their take on the subject.

White and the UFC are slowly realizing that a by-product of their growing popularity is the new non-MMA related opportunity for their fighters; whether it be commercials, cameos, or full out television and movie appearances. Their MMA fighters are increasingly becoming sought-after MMA personalities, and pulled in various different directions.

As a result, the UFC has to be even more selective in terms of whom it invests a ton of time, money, promotional effort into. That isn’t to say that the UFC should have never pushed Jackson in the first place – with his talent and personality they were absolutely right to. It says that the UFC, if given the choice needs to evaluate the commitment levels of its fighters. Specifically, it also means finding a way to secure the participation of their fighters in events that they’ve invested heavily. colleague David Wolf suggested that the UFC might need to create some sort of guarantee – either by veto or contractual obligation – and I agree. The fans are going to be upset, and claim that the UFC already has too much power, but it’s simply good business to protect your investment. It’s also quite fair to add a little insurance into a contract like the Ultimate Fighter series, “if you agree to particpate, you’re agreeing to a fight at this time and date.”

However, as the UFC continues to grow, the problem of success might also become part of the solution. Event related revenues are up substantially and when revenues are up, fight-related income also rises for participants. The more money the UFC can pay its fighters, the less-inclined men like Rampage will be to take non-MMA related endeavors in order to make additional money.

2 Responses to “MMA Stardom: The By-Products”

  1. BRENT on September 9th, 2009 1:27 PM

    wel the money is better in the ufc now, than it has ever been, and it’s only going to get better. they keep breaking their own ppv records every year and will probably be on network tv before long(hopefully). main event fighters are already making a million+(some millions) with ppv %. this fight was suposed to have a 24/7 like primetime special and rampage/rashad’s tuf would have put this through the roof imo. i seriuiosly doubt he will make more money as b.a. barracus than if he would have fought in dec as scheduled, he just can make god money w/o having to train, something rampage is not to in love with. iv’e already read that dana and the rest of the ufc’s brass were not to happy about this, so he most likely is not going to get 1 of those big retirement packages tha randy, tito, hughes and most likely lidell will recieve. if rampage loses this fight, i could see the ufc putting his fight career on ice long enough for SF to fold and i doubt his mr.t impersonation will keep him in acting for long. i see this as bad karma for quinton.

  2. Joseph on September 9th, 2009 3:15 PM

    Excellent writeup.

    The problem is that the UFC needs to be the star and the fighters need to be interchangeable to a certain degree for UFC’s model to work. Once fighters start to become bigger than the UFC, the UFC will lose leverage and will either have to increase the fighters pay to prevent them from pursuing other revenue streams or restrict them in their contracts (which will not only piss off the fan, but the fighter).

    What good is the fame that you have build from fighting if you can’t use it to guarantee a successful future after you retire from fighting?

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