The UFC continues to chug along after 25 years. The promotion along with the sport have grown tremendously. We’ve come a long way from Royce Gracie tapping one-glove boxer Art Jimmerson with a mount. Heck, the sport has changed so much in the last five years alone.
Yet one thing hasn’t evolved and it’s the UFC’s promotional style. The promotion still looks the same minus a few changes to its logo and adding more fighters and events. But their presentation all the way to “Face the Pain”, it’s time the UFC grow up a little bit.
Stop us if you’ve heard this before, “UFC is becoming WWE”.
It is often the first thing a self-professed “hardcore fan” laments when the UFC borrows elements from sports entertainment. But the UFC can continue picking up ideas from the WWE to grow itself.
Here are four great aspects they can borrow:
1. Have Their Own Developmental League Like WWE’s NXT
This is a no-brainer. NXT has been a huge reason for the WWE’s recent resurgence. The developmental promotion has helped create stars like former Universal Champion Finn Balor and ushered a women’s wrestling revolution.
While the UFC does have unofficial feeder organizations like Legacy Fighting Alliance (LFA) and Invicta FC, creating an official UFC developmental promotion will work wonders.
Just think of how much more LFA, Invicta FC, and other regional promotions will benefit if they were promoted as a UFC event. This is a company that was sold for 4.2 billion and will now be broadcasting with ESPN.
Having a developmental league will also provide much more content for both the television broadcast schedule plus digital streaming services like UFC Fight Pass and ESPN+. It will also help the UFC get everyone on their roster of 500+ fighters consistent fights, particularly the younger and lesser-known prospects.
Instead of fighting on the bottom of a regular UFC event where most viewers don’t watch, these prospects can headline these secondary shows. They can build their own fanbase and make them easier to promote once they make that jump to the main shows.
2. Big Four Pay-Per-View Events
The UFC kind of does this already but not on an official basis like the WWE. Every July, the UFC holds its unofficial flagship event to conclude International Fight Week the same way the WWE holds Wrestlemania every Spring.
Wrestlemania is just one of the “big four” WWE events the company holds every year. Together with SummerSlam (Summer), Survivor Series (Fall), and the Royal Rumble (Winter), the WWE has one marquee event every season.
The UFC could draw a model like this:
● International Fight Week (Summer)
● Halloween Weekend (Fall)
● New Year’s Eve (Winter)
● Post-Cinco De Mayo Weekend (Spring)
Each event will be the “stacked” event headlined by the UFC’s biggest possible fight plus a slew of other noteworthy fights to round out the main card. It also marks the official end of the “season” for that quarter.
At the start of each season, the UFC puts together a press conference stacked with its headliners (like they occasionally do). And each conference and big four pay-per-view can have its own theme, leading to the next point…
3. Themed Events and Venues
It wasn’t just the WWE that did this but the WCW and other major pro wrestling promotions as well. Think of events like “New Year’s Revolution” or “Halloween Havoc”. The UFC won’t be adding match stipulations, but they can design their marketing around the concept.
They can take it a step further and schedule fighters who fit the billing if the timing is right. An ultraviolent slugger like Justin Gaethje versus Tony “El Cucuy” Ferguson will be perfect for a Halloween event.
A top Mexican star like Yair Rodriguez is perfect for their post-Cinco De Mayo card and scheduling it for Mexico City or a similar destination is a plus.
The UFC has taken a meat and potatoes approach to its marketing even with something as simple as a poster design.
While spending a bit more to improve on these won’t guarantee short-term increase in sales, the improved production values will signal to the fans that they care about improving their product.
4. Be More Creative with Merchandise
Tying directly to the point above, the UFC can also extend its marketing efforts it to its merchandise.
The Reebok deal has been the most maligned thing to ever happen to the promotion, but it’s not a lost cause. There have been a few cool shirts particularly for Conor McGregor but they extend these to more than their cash cow.
Plenty of fighters like “Sugar” Sean O’Malley and Colby Covington have larger-than-life personalities. And while the UFC’s demographic is not the same kids the WWE sells to, there are enough from the 18 to 35 age bracket who would gladly purchase a shirt from Shop Strange Embroidery and Screen Printing that draws inspiration from WWE’s outrageous designs.