Monday, August 30, 2010

UFC 118 Leaves Much To Think About

In case you didn't hear about it, UFC 118 and the UFC Fan Expo took over Boston this past weekend.  When I say "took over Boston," I mean that quite literally.

It seemed that everywhere you looked in this city, UFC was there.  From billboards and taxi tops, to media stories and coverage the likes of which would be the envy of any PR guy anywhere, UFC got coverage that was absolutely unprecedented.  Hell, I was listening to the oldies station on my way to a radio remote last Thursday and even the DJ on the oldies station mentioned UFC.  If you are a Bostonian and didn't know UFC was coming to Boston, you were either a) deaf, dumb and blind or b) deceased, so check your pulse.

Boston is home to some of the greatest franchises in professional sports.  Between the Red Sox, Celtics, Patriots and Bruins, those entities suck up media coverage like a dry sponge sucks up a small puddle.  UFC was given coverage akin to a major sports franchise in the playoffs or championship finals.  It was fascinating to watch, purely from a media standpoint.

The event had such buzz that it attracted stars from the local sports community such as the Patriots' quarterback Tom Brady, the Celtics' Glen Davis, Shaquille O'Neal and many others.  This was more than just a sporting event.  This was a very big deal in this city.

The post-fight press conference was also fascinating to watch due to the make up of reporters and the level of questions.  To me, it sounded like 2/3 of the media in attendance regularly cover UFC and asked the more sport-oriented questions.  The other third sounded like the reporters with no connection to the sport, covering it purely as a media event.

For those of us in the pro wrestling business, what does it mean?  What does the level of coverage say about UFC and what does it say about pro wrestling?

Obviously, UFC is a very hot ticket.  While the Garden was not sold out, at a $600 top ticket, it was a very, very healthy gate.  Combine that with tens of thousands who attended the Fan Expo at the Hynes Convention Center across town and you have an event that even made Pat Moscaritolo, the head of the Greater Boston Convention and Visitors Bureau, sniff around the UFC like a dog to a brand new fire hydrant.

You could chalk this level of coverage up to first time curiosity, but the sheer magnitude of coverage says something else entirely.  The locally based WCF (World Championship Fighting) run by long time Dana White friend Joe Cavello, had been drawing several thousand fans on a regular basis to the venerable Shriners' Auditorium in Wilmington for a couple of years now.  It's clear that the area has a substantial MMA fan base.  (By the way, let's be clear about terms.  UFC is hot.  MMA is a cult item.  Some shows draw, but local MMA is like outlaw pro wrestling back in the territory days - hit or miss and mostly the latter.) WFC has had an association with UFC, so that has given them the aura of credibility other local MMA events don't
have a prayer of getting.

I have always maintained that a large element of the success of UFC is the failure of WWE/TNA to present a pro wrestling product with a greater aura of athletic credibility.  I believe it is - to a large degree - an overreaction to lack of sports in "sports entertainment."   By and large, people want to be able to suspend their disbelief and the more difficult that become, the less interested they are going to be.

The other issue I see is simply change.  The world changes every day.  Society changes.  Trends change.  No matter what your field of endeavor, you have to change with society in order to survive.  UFC is one of the great brand names in sports now.  They have done an incredible job of creating and defining a major league sport.  Pro wrestling is still defined by one company and that company is resistant to change.

No one knows what the future will hold.  UFC is here to stay and so is pro wrestling - whether its WWE, TNA or some independent brand.  One thing is certain.  Boston felt the world change this past weekend.  How many others in our industry will get the full meaning of that change?