We’re still in year one of the Power Slap experiment, Dana White’s drive to create another reality TV based extension of the combat sports universe. A few things, however, are already becoming fairly clear.
First and foremost, organized slap fighting sucks. I’d argue that the whole concept, on any level, is bad. But it seems to have a certain bargain basement carnival appeal. Get two huge dudes to clock each other at some expo or during the presser for some questionably legal celebrity boxing event and I can concede to its place in the broader context of sporting entertainment. But turn it into its own thing, with corporate backers and ‘professional slappers’ and the constant sales pitch from self-intersted commentary about the quality of it all and any sort of underground ‘oh my god I can’t believe they’re actually doing this’ appeal is automatically gone.
The more professional slap fighting I see, the worse it gets to watch.
The second truth that’s rapidly becoming apparent? Power Slap isn’t going to die. This is Dana White’s baby and he’ll keep it going come hell or high water. In a recent interview with Forbes Magazine, Dana White talked about the backlash to Power Slap and its ongoing future.
“It was identical. Identical,” Dana White said, comparing the backlash to Power Slap to the backlash to the UFC. “Literally the exact same criticism, the negativity, the press going after it and attacking it—politicians, you name it—it was identical to the UFC. So I’ve been in this position before. You know I don’t fold or crack in these situations. Fought through all the noise. And now, in six months, we have turned this into a profitable business—and this thing is on its way.”
Power Slap is the UFC that Dana White always wanted
Go back five or ten years and the first season of Power Slap would probably be regarded as an appalling failure all around. Realistically, it seems like it still was. Ratings were bad, the network pulled the plug on renewing it, it had to be delayed because Dana White slapped his wife in public just before the debut. Everything about the experiment said ‘nice try, but no thanks.’
Hell, we need look no further than Dana White’s other recent reality show competition attempt, The Ultimate Surfer, which lasted one 8-episode season in 2021 before getting canned, never to be seen again.
There are a number of things at work for Power Slap, however, that make it better braced to survive shaky beginnings. For one thing, the media climate is only getting more divisive. White and the UFC are increasingly positioning themselves as an ‘Anti-Woke’ brand, leaving them well positioned to align themselves with a streaming broadcast partner like Rumble that wants to occupy the same sociopolitical sphere.
There’s also some truth to White’s latest round of Slap spin, trumpeting the promotion’s massive success in creating viral video content. The best slap fighting has to offer as a spectacle is in quick hits of content. It’s a competition made for TikTok highlights if ever there was one. The whole of any one ’bout’ can be digested in one 5 second video, without giving viewers any context or background at all.
That is probably the biggest saving grace for Power Slap as a continuing product. Not that those viral video clips are guaranteed money makers (a whole lecture series could be taught on the difficulty in regularly monetizing viral content). Instead, because the sport is made just for super-quick highlights, it’s very unlikely to create lasting stars.
At best, pro slap fighting could maybe hope to capture successful influencers who will go in for the occasional bout. But a product that boils undefended repetitive brain trauma down to a series of clips, and has a rule set that would make attempting to train for competition a waste of time can’t really hope to give much more to the people doing it than whatever they can bring on their own.
By its very nature slap fighting is hardly more predictive in outcome than flipping a coin. How does a platform build stars in a sport that people can’t even get good at?
But does Dana White want stars? Most signs point to no.
“One of the things that we want to avoid that I think happens is that the players got too big,” White told the Baltimore Sun, speaking of his goals for the UFC, in a 2007 interview. “The players don’t talk to the fans. The players don’t go out of their way to sign autographs and to do the things that I think would make [these sports] even bigger than [they are] today.
“And that’s one of the things that we’re going to make sure doesn’t happen here in the UFC — where the guys just become untouchable. You show up at a [Los Angeles] Lakers game, you’ll never meet Kobe Bryant. But when you show up to a UFC event, odds are pretty damn good that you’re not only going to meet Liddell, but he’s going to sign what you need signed and take a picture with you.”
It may be an old quote from Dana White, but it’s a business model that it feels like the UFC has been trying to follow ever since; keeping the bulk of their roster as increasingly replaceable cogs in the machine, never to eclipse the brand if it can possibly be helped.
These days DWCS makes sure the churn at the bottom of the roster is constant. While the fighters that have managed stardom often find their next level of success has to be attained outside the confines of the Octagon.
Power Slap can slum it forever
As I’ve already stated, slap fighting seems anathema to building name recognition for its competitors. It’s best taken in tiny bites, outside the confines of its full broadcast events, which quickly become a slog of repetitive motions if watched as a full 20 minute event. It doesn’t require the training, dedication, or technique that would attract fans to its participants based on their skill, and it causes the kind of concussive damage that likely means anyone who does it a lot won’t do it for long.
What that means for White & the Fertittas is that costs should be eternally low. Why pay guys with names like ‘Darius The Destroyer’, ‘Slap Jesus’, or ‘Slap for Cash’ when most of the fanbase that’s engaging with the product is only doing so for those few seconds when these people get knocked out?
As former UFC middleweight Erik Spicely revealed, when he was offered a spot on the first season of Power Slap, pay for opening round bouts was $2,000 to show and $2,000 to win. Competitors don’t need camps or coaches, they don’t have to be in shape or gain experience. The bar to entry here is on the floor, anyone can step over it. What need would there be for prices to rise?
What that means, realistically, is that Dana White almost certainly isn’t lying when he’s claimed that the first season of Power Slap was a money maker, bad ratings and all. And it also means that future seasons don’t have to offer a whole hell of a lot more in terms of engagement for the show to stick around for as long as regulators are willing to put up with it.
It’s a low cost, low talent, low stress product. If White can manage to wrangle a few branding partnerships out of his UFC success for the whole thing, it’ll probably be a strong financial winner for years to come. A dream come true for the world’s most famous fight promoter.
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