Two best friends walk into an apartment, eyes weary, hair ruffled, both beat by a hard day’s work. While sitting on their scruffy couch with their feet on the coffee table chugging down a twelve-pack watching the tube, the discussion turns to the agenda for the weekend. Naturally, both men, who fit nicely into the 18-34 male demographic, are mixed martial arts’ fans. One being of the casual nature, the other being a hardcore fan who has sought out even the most obscure mixed martial arts action from around the world.
As you can imagine, these types of scenarios are familiar to many of us. They breed questions like “Who the hell is Fedor Emelianenko, man?” and “Jose Aldo? Never heard of him”. The response normally involves burrowing through Google to find footage. In Jose Aldo’s case, his eight second destruction of Cub Swanson normally elicits the desired response and the immediate hook for those casual fans who are fortunate enough to have a hardcore fan giving them an introduction.
Some fans may go through these exact motions as we lead into UFC 136 this weekend, converting passing fans into awe-inspired believers of Aldo’s greatness. Others have turned their friends on to Aldo’s style in the past. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough of us to preach the gospel.
Jose Aldo is one of the few talents that fans feel can make the breakthrough to a casual fanbase that doesn’t seem at all interested right now. The infancy of the new divisions is the standard excuse for the disinterest, but there is also the idea that the UFC hasn’t done enough to promote the fighters. Whatever the case may be, the talent in those divisions must take advantage of the opportunities thrown their way. UFC 136 is one of those opportunities.
History suggests that Aldo is already in the midst of an uphill battle to capitalize on his main card status however. The headlining bout, a lightweight title showdown between champion Frankie Edgar and challenger Gray Maynard, is the top billed fight on the card. Their second encounter at UFC 125 was a spectacular back-and-forth battle of wills, but the event only fetched an estimated 300,000 buys. A disappointment, yes, but not surprising with a supporting cast of Chris Leben, Brian Stann, Brandon Vera, and Thiago Silva.
UFC 136 will feature a better mix with two title bouts and a supporting middleweight bout between Chael Sonnen and Brian Stann. While the promotion for Sonnen has been subdued, the grandeur thrust upon Maynard and Edgar in the aftermath of their showdown at UFC 125 should boost interest among fans for their third encounter. Jose Aldo’s inclusion should add some eyes as well, although that isn’t a certainty.
Actions speak louder than words, and fortunately for Jose Aldo — the UFC gave him the audience at UFC 129, a card headlined by Georges St. Pierre vs. Jake Shields. The event was a guaranteed pay-per-view success, and Aldo vs. Hominick was placed in the co-main event slot for the evening.
It wasn’t exactly a coming out party for Jose however. Pumping up Aldo as a world beater and getting a convincing unanimous decision win shouldn’t be an issue, but I’m willing to bet some casual fans saw it as another fight proving these smaller fighters can’t finish. Later, we found out that a pre-fight illness exacerbated the weight cutting process, weakening the champion and visibly affecting him as the fight dragged on. The fight didn’t take place under optimal physical conditions for Aldo, but from a business standpoint — he was in prime position to gain fans.
We have no idea if Aldo “connected” with a large number of casual fans with that performance. What we do know is that other featherweights and bantamweights haven’t been pulling in large audiences. Dominick Cruz, the UFC’s current bantamweight champion, put on a helluva performance against Demetrious Johnson at UFC on Versus 6 this past Saturday in front of an average of 789,000 viewers. Placement on Versus guaranteed the card wouldn’t produce huge numbers, but there was some optimism that the numbers would rise because it was a title showdown.
That wasn’t the case, and the lead-up to the event revealed a lot of pessimism toward the potential for Cruz to appeal to fans. It isn’t certain whether Aldo will suffer the same fate based on his performance against Hominick. Aldo has a history of destroying his opposition however. He’s being put in a position to attract fans because he has a fan friendly style, thus making this weekend’s card important in determining whether he’s one of the lone fighters in the newest weight classes to have a quantifiable effect on fan interest that has, in its short history, been small.
It isn’t clear yet whether he does, although trends in other weight classes, i.e. the ability to finish, suggest that he should peak interest if he can put together a string of impressive wins. This weekend’s card is another prime chance for Aldo to blow away the foolish assumptions that fighters in these weight classes are boring, unskilled, or can’t finish. March was the last time a featherweight or bantamweight finished a fight in a main card match-up, but I’m banking that Aldo makes a breakthrough on Saturday night in Houston.
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