The world of MMA (read: UFC) was blessed by two individuals in recent years. The first was Ronda Rousey, who was since put back in perspective and likely retired. The second one is of course, Conor McGregor. It’s almost tempting to call him the more significant of the two, since I believe he brought bigger figures in terms of money and main stream exposure, but… the creation of women divisions in UFC is far from being something to sneeze at, and as Dana likes to say, we have Rousey to thank for that.
So at this point I’d like to thank Ronda and move on to Conor. But I want to look at this today through a small comparison of sorts. Well, maybe comparison isn’t the word. Perhaps perspective? Or simply observation? Let me know, once you finish reading.
While the Ronda and Conor fest was playing, another story developed. That of UFC Light-heavyweight champion, Jon Jones. This of course, got some attention and generated debate, but it was far from being on par with Conor’s journey to win titles in both Featherweight and Lightweight divisions, and no where close to his latest adventure into the boxing ring, to fight the legendary Floyd Mayweather.
For years, I’ve been thinking about what happens in that gap between sports, entertainment and money. That, and the reasons behind what makes one individual more popular, more appealing, more successful than the other.
I think the best example of what I’m talking about, is the differences between Jon Jones and Conor McGregor. Two of the most successful fighters in history. One, a guy who captured titles in two different weight classes within a year! The other, rising through the then stacked LHW ranks to win the title, then proceeding to clear out the division in devastating fashion.
In any sane universe, Jon Jones would be the more intriguing person. If one was to make a movie about a fighter, I don’t think it’s even a fair fight.
Don’t get me wrong, Conor fans. First, I’m one of you. This isn’t a knock on Conor, but Conor is pretty much what you see is what you get, and have been that way from the start (see old interviews and snippets in YouTube. Conor was Conor, is Conor, always will be).
Jones, on the other hand, is a guy I believe we know very little about. We may think we know a lot, after all, he’s been in the headlines quite often, but I think Jon let us in on very little, and most of it completely unintended. But we will get to that.
Conor is the guy you’d go out for drinks with, no doubt. An endless string of puns and punch lines go down very well with a few pints. Not to mention the ladies, right? But all in all, there are no real ups and downs, no surprises.
So why is it then, that the more intriguing guy, not to mention, the one that sticks to his sport and defends his belt, the guy who for the most part “does his job” is the less successful one?
I could say that it has to do with drugs and car accidents, but I think this is not the reason. No, I think the difference is manipulation. And I mean that in the most positive of ways.
If we look at Conor’s story, we see a guy who went in a direct line from a new signee, to contender, to champion. A little hitch in the first Diaz fight, then back to ascension. And though, I won’t claim his title shots weren’t earned through competition and achievements, I will say that his goals were met (and likely exceeded) in no small part, by manipulating fans, media and UFC at the same time. By goals (for clarity) I mean more than the belts. I include the big bucks, and from what I understand, the upcoming movie and likely plenty more spin off benefits. And GOOD for him! This isn’t a socialist manifesto.
Jon Jones, on the other hand – and this is where I see the big gap – was manipulated by effects of the success he experienced. Of course, Jones does not have the amount of natural charisma and self-confidence that Conor does, but he made it by himself to that starting point, from which there really could’ve been no limit to what he could achieve. When he reached it, though, instead of taking command of the situation, like Conor (who he looks up to), he let the circumstances (read: people around him, his ego and who knows what else) manipulate him so badly he strayed far from the path. Is it too far for him to make it right? We will know with time, but he can only blame himself.
I’m not the only one of course, to notice that. It seems like these days, there’s a formula for success in this business and it involves social media and other media. No wonder then, that guys like Ferguson, who were never overly chatty, increase their awareness to the strengths of social media and try to emulate (if not embarrassingly imitate) Conor’s blueprint.
The problem is… if you’re not Conor, it’s very difficult to be Conor-like. I cringe every time some Tom, Dick or Harry grabs the mic after a successful fight and tries to “cut a promo”.
I guess, like in so many other lines of business, some of us have it. Some of us don’t. We need to be able to use what we have and learn what we can.
But the bottom line of this post is that, regardless of how success is achieved in MMA, it seems like manipulation has to be part of your arsenal.
Is that a good thing?
A bad thing?
This is a subject for future (and some past) posts. But feel free to put in your 2 cents (or more).