GSP: The brand that resonates
Georges St. Pierre makes large sacks of money fighting in and for the UFC -- enough to make his colleagues envious (or envieux, to use proper French).
In fact, St. Pierre makes so much that Dana White invites a youngster like Rory MacDonald to take a peek inside his bank account just to discover some motivation/animosity in fighting his mentor. A percentage of each pay-per-view St. Pierre's on flows right into his savings.
There's a reason for this.
When St. Pierre fights, there's extreme interest -- not necessarily in his game plan (always tailored) or style (always telegraphed), but in what his opponent is selling. When he fought Dan Hardy at UFC 111, the PPV did about 875,000 buys. Why? Because the "Outlaw" was talking about knocking one of the game's most indomitable forces off his trolley. It was audacious enough to tune us in. When he fought Josh Koscheck at UFC 124, around 735,000 people found themselves with the necessary disposable income to check it out. His fight at UFC 129 against Jake Shields did around 800,000 buys. There are those who like St. Pierre's athleticism, his accent, his ability to completely shut guys down with nihilistic ease -- but many are paying to watch him lose. Rather, many pay for the off chance that he does.
The bottom line is it's a historic event each time he dangles that belt, and his fights have a collector's item feel to them.
Even with Jon Jones closing the gap on becoming the UFC's flagship fighter, St. Pierre is still in front of him. It probably won't stay that way much longer, because Jones is starting to realize this sort of effective dynamic. Estimates on Bones' PPV numbers for UFC 145 hovered around the 700,000 range, which isn't too bad.
Yet, considering that it was the first UFC PPV in two months, that number could have easily been a little higher, particularly since he was fighting his nemesis Rashad Evans. Even with an extremely personal, extremely public feud, Jones' numbers weren't quite up to St. Pierre's.
And that's only half of it. In the buildup to St. Pierre's fight with Nick Diaz that never happened, people began to look at Diaz in another light. Suddenly, brash and raw was unapologetically real and genuine. Diaz endeared himself to people -- he became a reclamation project. Just as suddenly we were saying things like "Yeah, but Diaz can fight off his back." This is when you know you're dealing with an Everest in a division of mere hillocks that moment you begin breathing optimism and personality into the challengers. Remember when Dana White cautioned that Thiago Alves was the toughest challenge St. Pierre has ever fought ahead of UFC 100? He knew enough to foster interest in infallibility's downfall. That's been the constant allure of St. Pierre.
It's getting that way with Jones, too. He hasn't been knocked out like St. Pierre was against Matt Serra, so there's not the comingling air of caution/vulnerability in play. He's a titan at 205, yet he did it so fast we couldn't wrap our minds around what was happening. Each time out, Jones wows as much as he stirs people's ire, and that's what translates into "can't-miss" interest. When you're a watercooler conversation between two heated parties on the opposite side of the fence, then you've made it. St. Pierre has been that guy a for long time. Jones is closing in, but people just haven't learned to love/hate him in full yet.
Jones is about to go mainstream
We've talked at length about what a revolutionary force Jon Jones has been inside the cage.
Now it is starting to appear that he will be one outside of it as well.
In case you haven't noticed, the UFC is taking a new (and somewhat proprietary) approach to marketing its light heavyweight champion, making him the first fighter to literally be sponsored by the company's apparel line, plastering his face all over its network television commercials and sending him out for every media engagement it can scrape together. The UFC has done this -- not by accident, nor coincidence, nor mistake -- despite the fact that Jones remains almost shockingly unpopular with hardcore MMA fans.
Why, you might ask? Why would the UFC toss the full weight of its considerable promotional muscle behind a guy many of its best customers can't stand?
Because, as usual, the organization is ahead of the curve.
UFC brass know full well that Jones is the future, and in the future they have planned out for themselves, the opinion of the sport's uncompromising and passionate die-hard fan base won't matter as much as it does now.
Unlike guys like Georges St. Pierre and Anderson Silva, the UFC doesn't seem to care much about marketing Jones to MMA fans. It wants to market him to the mainstream sports fans it hopes to attract in droves with its new broadcast deal on Fox. It wants to market him to housewives who are folding laundry during "The View," and teens who are staying up to catch Jimmy Kimmel's late-night talk show.
Fittingly, the very qualities that make Jones a target for ridicule from MMA heads will likely also make him the sport's biggest mainstream star in the coming years. Current fans dislike Jones because he's too perfectly put-together, too composed, too nice. The sport seems to come too easily for him.
We take these character traits as "fake." But someday soon, corporate executives will see him and think he's exactly the guy they want to put on a billboard. He's exactly the guy they want to put in a beer commercial, in a magazine spread or on a talk show.
If you think that makes Jones different from any previous UFC star, well, you're right.
He's not an MMA star, he's a superstar, and where this sport is headed, expect that star power to shine brighter than ever.
'GROSS POINT BLANK'
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