Why Hasn’t Muay Thai and Kickboxing Caught On Yet?
Part 2 of 3: Drama
This past weekend UFC 189: McGregor vs Aldo Mendes blew the doors off the mixed martial arts world in terms of revenue by having the largest crowd ever in attendance for weigh-ins, taking 7.2 million at the gate, and reportedly eclipsing 1 million PPV buys.
Keep in mind that Jose Aldo and his replacement, Chad Mendes are two of the lowest draws of top tiers fighters on the UFC’s roster, with Jose Aldo, the champion, historically commanding the lowest draw of all current UFC champions.
The obvious question here is:
“How did the UFC break every MMA record in terms of revenue and social media activity with half of the main event being total duds who elicit very little attention from casual fans?”
The long and short answer here is simply…
DRAMA! DRAMA! DRAMA!
The fast talking, shit talking, Conor McGregor is a one-man marketing & drama supernova.
It is because of him and the drama created by his antics leading up to the actual fight is what put the proverbial & literal butts in the seats this weekend. The drama drummed up a storm of interest so large that the UFC saw fit to pull out all the stops promoting the event and it paid off for everyone, including the fans.
Drama is the other side of the [exposure] coin that brings casual fans to your product.
It’s the scarred up side of Two-Face’s coin [for all you Batman fans]. It’s the the counterweight of our more sensible attempts to attract casual fans. The push to the pull. To be frank, it’s the ugly side of marketing but it works. No matter how much we like to pretend that we hate it, our ears perk-up when drama is afoot.
Because we secretly love that shit, son!
It is a knee-jerk reaction for most of us to say that we hate drama, especially in combat sports. Perhaps it’s because we don’t want to admit something about our core selves.
As a species; we’re kinda petty. Perhaps it’s because combat sports come with an inherent air of machismo and the word ‘drama’ conjures thoughts of qualities that both men and women see as undesirably feminine.
Or perhaps saying that we hate drama is always so en vogue that we actually do think that we hate it. Whatever the reason for our denying it happens to be; drama is and may always be the elephant in the room of why we love combat sports.
Boxing has always had drama. From Sonny Liston pulling a pistol on Muhammad Ali in the middle of the street with cameras and spectators around to Mike Tyson threatening to eat his opponent’s children and literally eating his opponent’s ear.
Mixed Martial Arts can’t run away from drama fast enough. Seriously, if you attempted to run from the drama in MMA Jon Jones would literally run you down in his SUV.
Red Pill; Blue Pill…
The second hard pill to swallow is that promotions have to feed the machine… and part of the machine runs on drama.
Am I saying that promotions should go out of their way to manufacture drama in order to attract more casual fans. Of course not! That would be going “Full Bellator”. You never go Full Bellator! But when the drama presents itself, promotions should most certainly leverage the opportunity to appeal to more fans outside of our circle.
Why shy away from giving the casual fans what we all, even hardcore fans, secretly want?
It Puts Butts In The Seats; Or It Gets The Hose
The name of the game is to bring fans to the sport, but butts in the seats, make more money, extend your reach, bring in more fans, make more money, pay the fighters more. But if promotions don’t increase the number of butts in the seats then they’ll either sink or plateau until attention to the sport dies down again. So when drama presents itself they have to pounce or they could potentially miss the opportunity to expose new fans to a great fight.
For example, there is bad blood between California’s Combat Sports Academy (CSA) who happen to be very capable and effective self promoters, and the Chasteen/Earley brothers of Best Muay Thai in Arizona that went 100% ignored by anyone with a voice to speak to the casual fan. From a marketing standpoint, TALK about a missed opportunity!
At Lion Fight 18, CSA’s Eddie Abasolo fought Best Muay Thai’s Damien Earley and was disqualified after an [accidental or intentional depending on who you love more] illegal elbow to the back of the head. From there trash talking ensued on social media between both camps. It was a decently interesting affair; nothing earth shattering but it had potential to pay-off later.
The opportunity for it came when a fight between rising CSA star, Gaston Bolanos, & Damien Earley was signed for Lion Fight 22. The drama jumped off almost instantly on social media and that was Lion Fight’s chance to leverage the drama. And since Lion Fight did not manufacture the grudge between the two gyms/fighters, they could have done so with a clear conscience.
As soon as the fight was signed, there could have been internet based promos made by Lion Fight showing the ending of the Damien Earley / Eddie Abasolo fight and playing it up as a grudge match between Gaston vs. Damien, especially with all the shit talking that both teams were doing.
Toss in some interviews with the combatants asking about the initial fight, the beef, and the upcoming fight, etc…for good measure. There are a number of ways that this particular crop of drama could have been harvested and distributed to casual fans who WANT to see things like this.
DID YOU SEE THAT FIGHT!?…What fight?
The end result was that the fight was the shit!
It was easily one of the best fights Muay Thai fights of the year with Bolanos taking the victory. However, the problematic question is,
“Who saw this epic battle who wasn’t going to watch it whether or not those guys hated each other or not?”
Most likely, no one. From a marketing standpoint it was a wasted opportunity.
The problem remains that if you’re not way into the sport and already familiar with those guys or the history between their teams, then the casual fan wouldn’t know and wouldn’t care. This is because no one was there to feed them the drama portion of their exposure diet and tell them that they needed to care & should watch this fight. Eat your veggies, people.
What do we hate? Drama!…When do we want it? Now!
Right now, some of you are saying, “Oh! But Charlie Hustle! We don’t like the drama.”
People say they don’t like to see the drama, they just want it to be about the purity of the blah blah blah. I call shenanigans.
- The success of the WWE, reality TV, and social media proves that people love drama. How do we know this? Simple when people truly get tired of social media drama they shut down their accounts, but most of them come back. They say it’s because they want to connect to people. Malarkey! You’re a lurker who is waiting for drama to pop off!
- The explosion of The UFC in the modern era is directly attributed to drama. Particularly in the form of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality show. As I stated before, the explosion of MMA and The UFC is a direct factor in the growth of our sport. So in a round about way, drama has already fed Muay Thai and Kickboxing to a small extent. I think that it would be wise for promotions to take the chances presented to them to use their own drama wisely.
- If u ignore the drama then again you’re pandering to The Snobby 1% who will be with you anyway! The drama isn’t for us. Some of us will gripe and complain but we’ll continue to support the sport.
The drama is for the meatheads, the Hooters girls, the wannabe fight analysts, & the overweight guys who got a fake black belt in TKD when they were six years old, so naturally they know every fucking thing their is to know about fighting [in their own minds].
That’s who we want if we want the sport to grow. T-Shirt buyers. We want them to buy the t-shirts so that they can go watch the fight in their snap-back hats, bedazzled man jeans, & Lion Fight or Glory t-shirt, look tough in front of the girls and talk shit about all the “pussies” in the ring.
So what if they’re annoying?
It is important to remember that drama doesn’t have to be a constant. It doesn’t even have to be chased after. It will present itself on its own. It is simply a useful accelerant, used in the moment, to facilitate an explosion of casual interest which then provides the opportunity introduce the fighters, personalities, and teams to a greater number of people at once. From a financial standpoint, drama can be seen as a half off coupon in terms of what it costs to attract new fans.
Now we have two ingredients of the growth cocktail; exposure and drama. Stay tuned for the third piece…
What do you think? Is drama ultimately good or bad for the sport?
- The man who goes by "Charlie Hustle" is a Chemist & Physicist as well as a lifelong athlete & martial artist. He began boxing at the age of 4 & trained and competed in Muay Thai, Judo, Japanese Jiu Jitsu, & Kendo throughout high school and college.
At 24 he moved to California and trained briefly at the Fairtex academy in San Francisco before moving to SBG Berkeley to train boxing under Alan Pagle, Muay Thai & MMA under Jude Ledesma, & BJJ under, Lily Pagle.
Six years later he moved back to Indianapolis and bounced from gym to gym while developing his own style of Muay Thai.
He considers himself a constant student of combat and has recently opened his own school, "Goblin Muay Thai" in Indianapolis, Indiana.
He considers Muay Thai his first love & trains every single day. He is also a gear fanatic-slash-connoisseur, Wolverine, Batman, & Edgar Alan Poe are his heroes, and he is slightly obsessed with The Cure. Lol