We have them in every sport, a guy you just love to hate, or a guy you love and everybody else hates. Growing up I was a huge hockey fan and nothing gave me more pleasure then to see Jaromir Jagr get plastered on the boards like a sponsor. Maybe it was his mullet or maybe it was the fact for a guy his size a strong breeze would cause him injury, either way seeing him get crushed put a smile on my face
Now the possibility of Jagr getting crushed did not lead me to watch any Pittsburgh Penguins games, mainly because if he got hit it would usually be on a highlight reel the next day, but in MMA the art of making people care can lead to huge purses and lucrative sponsorship deals. There are only a few that have mastered this art and have made huge amounts of money doing so.
During the lead up to his fight with Welterweight kingpin Georges St. Pierre, Josh Koscheck had a army of people that were calling for his head. After his win over Paul Daley, Koscheck set the crowd ablaze when he taunted their home town hockey team. Koscheck had so much heat leading up to the fight at one event as he took his seat in the middle of a fairly exciting fight the crowd booed heavily. Shortly after one of the fighters stated in an interview that he thought they were booing the fight. Koscheck went on to get soundly beaten by George and quickly stated that his smack talk was to sell the fight and with GSP telling the fans he is cool Kos was back in Montreal’s good books.
While Koscheck has since faded into the background, one man as ascended the mountain and painted a target on his back, that man in Chael Sonnen. Sonnen came into the UFC and dropped his first bout to Demian Maia via triangle choke, but after defeating Dan Miller and Yushin , Sonnen turned his attention towards champion Anderson Silva, and with a win over the current top contender at the time, Nate Marquart, Sonnen earned a title shot agaionst the Spider. Chael combines a pro-wrestling persona with his wit and what has emerged is possibly one of the most hated fighters in UFC history. Sonnen has attacked everything from Brazil, to the Blackhouse gym, and at one point even pegged Lance Armstrong as a cheater and pointed to his cheating to the cause of his cancer. Before the Silva fight many people, myself included, thought that Silva would run over Sonnen and then he would fade into the background of the division, but how wrong we were. Sonnen not only looked good against Silva he ran him over for four and a half rounds until being submitted by an amazing triangle from the champion. Since then a failed drug test, legal issues, and his never ending attack on Brazil has fueled the fire even more.
Sonnen makes people care about him, whether you hate him or love him is none on his concern as long as you pay attention. Sonnen has crafted a persona which makes people draw toward him to either cast stones or utter praise. This type of reaction is what helps make Sonnen money. Sonnen isn’t a lay and pray fighter, but his fighting style is strongly based in wrestling and does not produce a large amount of finishes so it can be hard to draw in casual fans, so Sonnen uses his trash talk to give him the extra push to get people to watch his fights.
Jon Jones recently had one the the best years in MMA history and with his most recent win it looks as though the Jackson MMA product is nearly unstoppable. Jones produces exciting finishes, shows amazing athletic ability, and is one of the most creative fighters to step into the UFC cage, yet this young man draws the ire of fans. What is interesting about Jones is that he does not seek controversy like Sonnen, it’s exactly the opposite, Jones tries his hardest to come across as a greatful young man who shows respect to everyone he encounters. Many dislike Jones because he seems “fake” and/or cocky. One of the major reasons why Jones draws so much heat is because he has left a few fan favorites in pieces during his title reign. Shogun was demolished by Jones and Rua’s fans have never gotten over it.
Another reason Jones is also hard to relate to because the fans don’t really know who he is yet and have trouble relating to him. This could very well be a product of Jones not knowing who he is as a man yet. As a person of his age i know full well how hard it can be to know who you are and trying to find yourself as a man. Jones has a ton of pressure placed on him and during all this he is still trying to find out who he is as a person. Personally i believe he should just be cocky and show his true feelings without caring what people think of him. There were a few times in the lead up to the Rashad fight the fans seen Jones get mad and was genuine when he said he was going to show Evans that he is old and done. What is important about all this is that people care about the guy. There are those who will tune in just on the hopes that Jones will get left on the mat drooling. The interesting part about it is Jones has not done anything to promote this nor has he trown fuel on the fire, he just keeps trying to be a good ambassador and people just keep spitting venom at him. Either way the young man makes bank on every PPV because of this type of reaction, and the fact he is exciting don’t hurt his cause.
Being loved in MMA isn’t everything as dislike can push a fighter up the ladder just as quick. There are fighters who are successful, but have yet to enjoy the fruits of the hard work. Jon Fitch has been a fixture at the top of the welterweight rankings for years and yet the man has about 25 fans. The reason being Fitch as a wrestling based style and he is as quiet as a church mouse. No matter what people say about him he keeps quiet and just digs in his heels a pushes for the next victory. In all honesty the best route for Fitch to take would be to tell the fans who dislike his fans to shut up and if they dislike it then turn on boxing. It comes off as an asshole, but i believe that is what someone like Fitch need to dos in order to get as much out of his career as possible.
Ben Askren has a style much like Fitch, but he lashes out at people when they try to call it boring and it’s working. People hate Askren and if he ever makes it to the UFC people will tune in for the chance to see him lose.
Long story short the fight game is about making people care, whether it be about the fight or the personality it is critical to connect with a person in order to get $49.99 from then to watch the fight. Koscheck does this, Sonnen does this, and without even trying Jones does this. If you can win you are half way there, but if the figher wants that big PPV percentage he needs to make people care about them, if they don’t they go down as that guy who was an awesome fighter, but can’t remember his name, Fitch or something.