(At one point, Jones tried to pull away because he thought the handshake was over, but Chael held on for like a half-second longer. It was, without question, the most challenging moment of Jones’s professional MMA career. / Photo via Getty Images)
By Matt Saccaro
The fight game isn’t just about tatted-up white guys with shaved heads hitting each other in the face. If it were, BodogFIGHT and the IFL would still be alive and kicking. Marketing /Hype/PR is a crucial aspect of the fight business — but it doesn’t always go so well.
There were times when the UFC has had stunning marketing triumphs (the whole “Zuffa created the entire MMA world and if you don’t like it you’re a butthurt Pride fanboy” shtick). But there were also times when the UFC’s efforts fell flat on their face like Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante against Dan Henderson.
What were some of these hyped-up but obviously bullshit moments? Let’s have a look…
1. Watch Che Mills, the Unstoppable Killing Machine!
UFC 145’s main event of Jon Jones vs. Rashad Evans was strong enough to sell a pay-per-view on. Sure, sometimes the promo made the two fighters look like jilted lovers, but we’re not gonna hate on the UFC for hyping up a title fight.
We will, however, hate on them for trying to convince fans that a squash match — Rory MacDonald vs. Che Mills — was some kind of epic duel between two young lions. There was only one prospect in that fight, and it wasn’t Che Mills.
The UFC’s inability to do anything with subtlety ruined the promos for this event, the prelims for this event, and most of the PPV portion of this event. Describing Mills as a “new, dangerous welterweight from the UK” was a gross exaggeration. The British striker was only dangerous if you were a TUF bum or if you suffered an accidental knee injury while fighting him.
During the prelims, Rogan was doing the hard sell. THIS CHE MILLS GUY IS A KILLER. HE’S A MONSTER. HE’S A BADASS. HE BEHEADED NED STARK. HE SHOT BAMBI’S MOTHER. Insane falsehoods like this littered the broadcast. Rogan didn’t stop the bullshit once the main card started, either.
We got treated with pro-wrestling-level fakeness about how Che Mills was on MacDonald’s level up until MacDonald, predictably, ran through Mills.
Thus, the only thing that got killed at UFC 145 was Mills’s career.
Since then, Mills hasn’t legitimately won a fight, unless you count Duane Ludwig’s freak injury as a legit win. Earlier this month, Mills lost via TKO to Irishman Cathal Pendred (never heard of him either) at a CWFC event in Ireland.
2. James Toney, Bane of MMA Fighters.
We at CagePotato have sleepless nights sometimes because James Toney vs. Randy Couture was an actual thing that happened.
This freak show fight — more suited to a Japanese promotion or the backyard that hosted Tank Abbott vs. Scott Ferrozzo — found its way to the UFC’s Octagon due to James Toney’s superlative trolling abilities and Dana White’s spider-sense for money-making.
Couture vs. Toney didn’t headline the UFC 118 PPV — Frankie Edgar vs. BJ Penn had that honor — but it was a large part of the event’s marketing.
Dana/The Zuffa hype machine gave out reasons why the fight wasn’t bullshit and why you should buy the PPV. They cited the statistic that James Toney had more knockouts than Randy Couture had fights and trotted out the tired, near-meaningless phrase “you never know what’s gonna happen in a fight” again and again.
Forget the fact that pure boxers had tried to ply their craft in the UFC twice and had failed, DANA WHITE is telling you James Toney has a chance so it must be right and you better buy the PPV so you can see the upset of a lifetime!
Toney’s ass-crack being visible at the weigh-ins foreshadowed the shittyness to come. The match ended the way everybody thought it would, with Toney having laughably bad MMA skills (he didn’t even know how to tap out correctly) and Couture effortlessly submitting him.
3. Banned in 49 States, 340 Countries, 7 Planets, 340 Trillion Galaxies…
When the UFC was founded, one of the bigger issues was how to market it.
The American public had long been familiar with the typical Asian martial arts bushido bullshit thanks to the wave of interest inspired by movies ranging from Enter the Dragon to The Karate Kid. But the UFC was more than just karate guys and katas. It was the world’s toughest and purest fighting tournament. How, exactly, are you supposed to sell that?
According to Campbell McLaren, as gracelessly as possible.
McLaren was the man in charge of the UFC’s marketing in 1993. His strategy was to make the UFC appear as anything BUT a sport. To McLaren, the UFC had to be presented as Mortal Kombat without the thunder gods and four-armed Shokan princes.
The result of this policy was the enthusiastic yet ultimately self-defeating “BANNED IN 49 STATES. FIGHTS END VIA KNOCKOUT, SUBMISSION, OR DEATH” marketing campaign that piqued the interest of martial arts enthusiasts, street brawlers, and pornography theater owners.
4. Revenge Is a Dish Best Served on a Lackluster PPV Main Event.
Remember Chuck Liddell’s “fearsome” title reign where he allegedly fought the best light-heavyweights in the world?
Yeah, we’re gonna talk about that for a second.
Riding high off capturing the UFC light heavyweight crown from Randy Couture, Chuck Liddell was pitted against Jeremy Horn. It was a peculiar match to make seeing as Horn hadn’t been in the UFC since a 2001 loss to Elvis Sinosic, of all people.
So why rush Horn to the front of the title-shot line?
Well, one theory is that Horn’s victory over the legendary Spencer Canup impressed Dana White so much that he had no other choice than to give Horn the title shot.
Another, equally likely theory, is that Liddell’s 1999 loss to Horn was a great pretext for a “REVENGE! GRUDGE MATCH!” angle straight out of the WWE’s playbook. Liddell got to avenge his loss, Horn lost some brain cells, and MMA fans lost a few hours and $40.
The UFC couldn’t survive if Tito Ortiz kept fighting the likes of Elvis Sinosic (that’s two Sinosic mentions in one article, if anyone is keeping count). The UFC needed established names. Ken Shamrock was an established name.
Yes, he was coming off a loss when he was brought in to fight Tito Ortiz for the first time in 2002 but that didn’t matter. Everybody remembered Ken Shamrock thanks to his status as a UFC Legend™ and thanks to his time in the WWE.
“Here are two guys who DON’T LIKE EACH OTHER!” “Watch the DISRESPECTFUL, UPSTART PUNK trash talk the RESPECTFUL VETERAN”
Ironically, the hype around the feud was all real. Shamrock’s Lion’s Den and Tito Ortiz had legitimate beef with one another. Thus, matching up him an Ortiz was an easy sell. But the reason this hook was so terrible was that Shamrock was no match for Ortiz. Shamrock wasn’t a roided-up superman anymore. He was Samson without his hair, Batman without his money, Chael Sonnen without TRT.
Yeah, great they don’t like each other. That doesn’t mean a fight between them made sense because, quite frankly, it didn’t. It was a cash-grab and attention whoring.
And it worked — so well, in fact, that they did it again twice. Shamrock would face Ortiz four years later on another PPV, UFC 61, and on a UFC Fight Night card called “Ortiz vs. Shamrock 3: The Final Chapter” just three months after that. Both of those fights ended in first-round TKO wins for Ortiz.
On the next page: A legend gets executed, “fun fights” (aka “squash matches”) and the absurd bullshit that actually turned out to be true.