MMA and the NBA have more in common than the average fan thinks. It’s a misconception among many fans that is the general consensus of the UFC is in the business of promoting fighters and “building stars.” This tactic is wrong and most big sports organizations don’t do this. Instead it’s the athletes using the platform built by the forefathers to build their brand and transcend the sport. Today, we will be looking at the similarities between the NBA and MMA, specifically the UFC.
Building Your Own Brand: the NBA and the UFC
For far too long, combat sports athletes have relied on the promoter to build their name power. It is up to the Matchroom Boxing’s and the UFC’s to make an athlete’s name known to the audience. While that’s a good way to go about things, especially when a promoter is just starting out and trying to attract new names, at the point in the career the UFC is seeing, it’s time to move past that model, and they seemingly are.
The UFC was founded in 1993, 27 years ago. In contrast, the NBA was founded in 1946. If we take a look at the NBA 27 years after their founding, we see a list of players that are known as players and not as much for their teams they played for. Think Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Pistol Pete Maravich, Bill Walton and Moses Malone. While it’s common knowledge that these players played for the Lakers, Jazz and more, fans remember the players’ accomplishments foremost. While the teams are well remembered too, the NBA has become more player-driven as time went on, leading to the megastardom of players today like LeBron James, Steph Curry, and Kevin Durant.
The model of the NBA houses all the teams under the NBA banner but allows players to freely promote their thoughts and ideas, seeking business outside of basketball as well. LeBron James famously has a $1 billion lifetime deal with Nike, the first of it’s kind. Adjacently, Israel Adesanya just signed his own shoe deal with Puma, and while it’s not the magnitude of LeBron James, it’s a step in that direction.
The NBA’s model has it becoming a faster growing sport worldwide compared to the NFL. It’s surging world popularity has been a part of the Olympic games and fans are seeing more and more international players join the NBA. Fans have even seen their teams take international games overseas, not counting Toronto who has an NBA team.
The UFC isn’t quite there yet, and still is torn between doing things boxing’s way and the new age way, spearheaded by the NBA. While the UFC no longer allows sponsorships on their shorts, it can be said that the same thing is done in the NBA. It gives the sport a more professional look, which attracts more viewers. The NBA and the UFC are more alike than you think, and will begin to look even more similar in the future.
Conor McGregor and LeBron James
I am of the opinion that LeBron James is the pinnacle of basketball. While people will argue tooth and nail that Michael Jordan is the better basketball player, that’s not what I’m getting at. LeBron James plays the business of basketball better than anyone ever has. Having won championships with three teams now, it’s not he Heat, Cavaliers, or Lakers people tune in and watch for the most part. It’s LeBron James. While James has used the NBA to launch his own brand, make no mistake about it, LeBron IS the platform now. The NBA feeds off of James as James has fed off of the NBA in the past.
It’s not just LeBron James, either. Other players like Steph Curry, Kevin Durant, and Kyrie Irving have built their own brands outside of basketball. The one name that comes to mind when we’re talking brands and the UFC is none other than Conor McGregor. McGregor and James are a lot alike when it comes to business. McGregor is set after fighting and with his Proper 12 whiskey, will have less and less of a reason to fight.
McGregor has built his brand off of the UFC brand and anywhere he goes, should he ever see the day free from the UFC, people will tune in to see Conor McGregor, not ONE, not Bellator, not Matchroom Boxing, Conor McGregor. The UFC may not know it yet, but they are heading for a NBA model, not a Matchroom Boxing model. Their future will be on the backs of stars built on the back of the UFC. It’s a symbiotic relationship.
How did we get here?
The NBA wasn’t always like this. It took the league building on players and building authority for the league before stars started to really transcend the sport. There were the Bill Russells and James Worthys before the Kobe Bryants and Michael Jordans. The UFC is seeing that as well. While there have been some breakout stars that have become brands, like Brock Lesnar, the UFC has had cult followings for athletes like GSP and Chuck Liddell that built the brand that is the UFC. Then we’ve seen the stars come out and start to make a name for themselves and not the UFC.
Names like McGregor, Ronda Rousey, Nate Diaz, Jorge Masvidal, and Israel Adesanya are fetching values far greater than what the UFC is giving them to fight for the promotion. While they may be resistant to it, the UFC is going to have to accept the fact that these athletes are transcending the brand and building a business based around themselves and not the UFC.
While there are are still players in the churning of the NBA like Devin Schroder and Jrue Holiday who are great players but don’t really reach the fans, the bigger stars will begin to come out of the woodworks for the UFC and grow the fighters as a whole.
Thanks for reading! What are your thoughts on the growing authority of fighters in the UFC compared to what we’ve seen in the NBA? Sound off in the comments below!