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Is the UFC more like pro wrestling or NASCAR?

While at the WFA show this weekend, I spoke to another reporter about the UFC. I mentioned that the UFC seems to follow the pro wrestling business model in which they try to control every aspect of their promotion (from championships, to matchups, to the press to the manufactured story lines, etc.).

The other reporter quickly corrected me. “You want to know what the UFC’s business model is?” he asked. “They told me that they model themselves after NASCAR.”

I have been thinking about that ever since. Is the UFC more like pro wrestling or NASCAR?

I am still going over this in my mind. It is clear that the UFC is more like NASCAR in one sense – there are no pre-determined outcomes to its fights. But overall?

Right now I lean towards saying that the UFC is more like professional wrestling. For one thing, there are different mechanisms that work to keep NASCAR and the UFC on top. NASCAR continues to control stock car racing for the same reasons major sports leagues are difficult to challenge – you need a large number of top teams and athletes to run a series that attracts fans. Since NASCAR has all the top teams and all the viewership it has developed a center of gravity, and teams need to compete in NASCAR in order to get big sponsorhip and exposure.

On the other hand, in MMA you only need two popular headliners to sell a card. The UFC cannot monopolize all the top MMA talent (and indeed many people think Pride’s roster of fighters is better). Instead, the UFC relies on the fact that non-hardcore simply do not know enough about other fighters and promotions to be interested in buying the PPVs. It also tries to ensure that its manufactured story lines (like the Shamrock vs. Tito story line from TUF III, for example) keep the public entertained so they do not look elsewhere. But, the instant another promotion breaks through the public consciousness or enough top talent leaves the UFC, all bets are off. The UFC could lose its monopoly at the top of American MMA.

There is lots more to discuss, and I am still open to the argument that the UFC is actually more like NASCAR, so I am opening the question up to readers. What do you think? Is the UFC stock car racing or sports entertainment?

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4 Responses

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  1. If you are willing to accept the argument that NASCAR has a lot of pro-wrestling flavor to it (as has been claimed and argued on national TV such as ESPN), then making the comparison of UFC to NASCAR is a very natural one.

    If you view the UFC as NASCAR, WFA as IRL, and IFL as CART, then things fall into place. The argument UFC makes is that people show up to their events to watch any fights, similar to how 100,000 people are willing to show up for a NASCAR event. All the drivers in NASCAR are aligned with teams (similar to how fighters in UFC are aligned with teams), and NASCAR is brilliant at marketing what they want marketed to the masses (i.e. certain drivers, like Dale Earnhardt Jr.) and they get it done.

  2. Chris said

    I’m not a NASCAR fan, never watch it, so I can’t really make a comparison.

    Having said that, I did grow up watching pro wrestling ( the good old days, not the Jerry-Springer-ized WWE of today ).

    If the UFC uses “manufactured story lines”, as you’re claiming, then the UFC is like WWE. And I’m sad to hear it.

    Is there evidence of the fake story lines? I haven’t been following MMA for very long, just a few months.

  3. The Shamrock vs. Tito story line from TUF 3 was manufactured IMO. They spent an entire season of reality T.V. hyping a feud in order to sell a PPV at the end of the show. It was obvious enough that Tait Fletcher, one of the TUF 3 fighters, is reported to have complained about Shamrock going into his pro-wrestling persona when he was around Tito.

    The entire season was dedicated to selling the idea that the two had a score to settle. They had arguments, shoving matches, talked smack to each other, etc. Even if they truly dislike each other, there is very little difference between what the UFC did and what WWE does to sell a PPV.

    Indeed, there was no reason for the two to fight again, other than the fact that the UFC was able to hype the fight through its ‘reality’ television show.

    -whaledog

  4. Chi said

    Let’s compare boxing for a moment. Is boxing not rushing to find a credible champion? Does boxing not tend to match up fighters that will sell (hence Tyson still being active)? Did Mayorga just insult De Lahoya’s wife and apologize after the fight? Isn’t that manufactured? So is boxing also trying to be pro-wrestling or is the UFC trying to mimmick boxing?

    The reality is that it isn’t one organization copying another. Its just common business sense to put together the matches that people want to see (whether or not its actually competitive) and get people excited about it.

    The continued MMA media assertation that the UFC will crumble once the casual fans are exposed to Pride and other greater organization also defies common fan loyalty. If that were the case, the Knicks and Red Sox (prior to 2004) would have zero fans. People seem to love Randy Couture more even after he was KOed twice by the Iceman. You would think that the fans would turn on him after he was “exposed”. Even if Silva KOs Chuck and Pride makes a huge splash in the US, fans are still going to watch the UFC because they enjoyed all the previous shows that got them in MMA and will most likely remain loyal.