What Wrestling (WWE) Can Learn From MMA (UFC)
Quite a bit of you will balk at anything I type here because you’re diehard wrestling fans who seem to hate MMA. The Road to Wrestlemania is just starting out, and so far this year’s festivities from December to April will arguably be my favorite RTW from the last decade. I am much more passionate about wrestling than I am MMA, but there’s only a couple times a year that wrestling makes me as excited for an event like UFC tends to do on a regular basis (maybe every 2-3 months?).
December 28th was a day and night I was most excited for in almost 4 months (SummerSlam). I was more excited for the most recent UFC outing than I was for Christmas. I was fucking pumped for this card of fights.
But on top of the solid booking of the 6 hours of fights, UFC were able to shine a light on a couple of interesting aspects to their world that made me hope WWE was paying attention.
WWE Network = UFC Fight Pass
In a press conference before any of the fights took place, UFC unveiled their digital subscription network “UFC Fight Pass.”
Here’s a bullet point recap:
For $9.99/£5.99 you'll get:
- Live events with top 10 contenders in big time fights.
- 150 exclusive live bouts
- All international TUF shows.
- DARK AGES Fights
- Over 500 Pride Fights
- Over 600 WEC Fights
- Over 500 Strikeforce Fights
- Plus Affliction, WFA & more
- Original programming and in depth interviews.
It’s an online based service where UFC will allow members access to previous events, and not just from the UFC but all the fighting promotions and companies they’ve acquired over the years. Seem familiar? There will also be exclusive content. I’m sure there will be specific programs like what we’ve heard are ready for the WWE Network (Legends House for example), but full cards and non-televised preliminary fights for the PPV events will be exclusive to the subscription based broadcast. There’s sure to be even more available, but this is the core of what is in place already. The Free Pass was launched on Dec. 28th with a 2 month free trial (regular price looks to be $9.99/£5.99 per month for US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand in local currency).
As you can see many of the rumors concerning the WWE Network are in place for the UFC Fight Pass. The key component that stands out to me is the exclusive content with the 10 events held exclusively on the Fight Pass, along with the prelims. When I am considering purchasing a subscription to this sort of service, I want to make sure I’m not paying $10 a month for programs I’ll find for free easily by waiting a couple of days or weeks (at this point I’m not counting pirating).
I think wrestling fans who don’t watch MMA would call the preliminary fights the “Sunday Night Heat/Free-For-All/Youtube Kickoff” by the common description of smaller fights before the bigger fights that are on TV or PPV. That would make sense if it was scripted like wrestling. As a real athletic contest, it’s a place for fighters to earn a spot on the main cards in the future. Unlike in wrestling, a strong performance when less people are watching has a direct effect on their future. Dolph Ziggler has stolen the show several times, but is still barely at the Intercontinental Title level due to other influences on a wrestler’s career. In the fighting world, the more impressive a fight, the more likely you’ll be put in the spotlight doing something special the next time. Just last night while watching the Facebook prelims, I witnessed a Brazilian kid (22 year old William ‘Patolino’ Macario, with an overall MMA record of 6 wins and 1 loss) pick apart a 30+ fight veteran (34 year old Bobby Voelker, with a record of 24-10). That’s rather unheard of, to see someone who has less than 10 fights under their belt completely dismantle a much more experienced fighter. It was a great battle where Patolino made a tremendous impression on the announcers, which is most likely a reflection of how the matchmakers will place him in the future. Just like it’s fun as a wrestling fan to watch how Seth Rollins has moved up the card from being an ROH indy darling, to NXT Champion, to being half of the WWE Tag Champions, it’s fun to take notice of a fighter early in their career and watch them climb the ladder. That’s why prelims are less like the WWE pre-PPV programs, and more like an episode of NXT.
Think about that - Imagine if before a PPV like Elimination Chamber, subscribers to the WWE network would get to see NXT competitors against WWE midcarders. I know this happens from time to time on NXT, but it would be all the more interesting if done exclusively for WWE Network subscribers. Leave the NXT program for just their roster, and then have a pre-show where that roster bleeds into the WWE. And instead of giving them less than 10 minutes like most NXT or kick-off matches, give them near 20 minutes. I would be interested in seeing a preshow card of Bo Dallas defending against Sami Zayn, and The Ascension vs Prime Time Players where they all get treated like WWE main roster wrestlers.
This isn’t to say everyone would love this idea, but it’s an option to give the WWE Network a boost that wouldn’t be found otherwise. I don’t think it would be a shock if viewers tune in more during the PPV preshows than on whatever slot NXT might be given. That means if WWE are truly hoping to elevate talent, pre-PPV could be their “prime time.”
Also, with an online subscription based system, there’s going to be more and more demand for individual match viewing. I love watching entire cards as a whole, but just like how the modern music industry works with $0.99 singles on iTunes, I would expect more people interested in watching John Cena’s greatest hits. WWE will need to alter their programming to make that simpler. It will also be a decent gauge to what fans are looking for. I’ll use the term “downloading” even though I doubt that’s the right word, but whenever fights are streamed to a device, there is obviously a counter going off somewhere in Titan Towers. Downloads will be a decent indicator to who is making waves in the WWE Universe. What if Fandango matches start having more downloads than Roman Reigns matches? Or if Daniel Bryan matches are downloaded more than John Cena? There’s bound to be someone calculating these stats to help decipher pushes in the future.
This can be incorporated into the NXT/preshow content, as the developmental talent can be evaluated by the interest they draw. Basically, by including more non-PPV talent to the pre shows in some fashion, and therefore drawing more viewers to their screen time, it’ll allow WWE to get a sense of who deserves the next push - similar to how UFC judges their prelim fighters by their performance.
Basically, the news of the UFC Fight Pass has me even more excited for the potential of the WWE Network. We’ll see how it all pans out.
Storyline - Tate vs Rousey
Rivalries in real sports are much easier to accept for many reasons, but the biggest one is their reality. True animosity exists and bleeds through your screen. Even in our scripted sport, genuine dislike between wrestlers tends to garner a special kind of interest that other feuds just tend not to have. Michaels vs Hart isn’t the best example, because the true heat between HBK and the Hitman came out in the open much more after their final match. I remember checking dirt sheets at the time and there were some rumors circulating, but it took shoot interviews and books to be published to get the real story. Once we understood the full picture, it made visiting the matches between the 2 all the more interesting. That’s why there’s a “25 Greatest Rivalries” DVD, and then a separate release for Shawn vs Bret.
I think a better example is Goldberg vs Jericho, or Goldberg vs Regal. There’s a reason a no storyline match on Nitro between Bill and Lord Steven Regal still gets circulated consistently online. Same for Chris Benoit vs Kevin Sullivan.
Anyone who has watched Women’s Mixed Martial Arts over the last couple of years knows of the true animosity between Miesha Tate and Ronda Rousey. It started with Rousey going undefeated in her first 4 pro fights with all her wins being in the first minute of the first round via armbar submission, and then being announced as the #1 contender to the Strikeforce Bantamweight Women’s Title, then held by Tate. Tate openly stated she didn’t believe the undefeated rookie deserved a title opportunity yet after only 4 pro wins (which is a low number in MMA), and with “Rowdy” Ronda’s attitude, she was off to the races starting to throw back her own jabs and barbs. The title fight took place, and though Miesha lasted the longest, she fell victim to the armbar after 4 minutes and 27 seconds and a new champion was crowned. The bad blood didn’t end there however. Ronda refused to give any real credit to the former champion, while Miesha seemed to learn to keep her mouth shut.
Once the women were given their own UFC division, Rousey was still champion, while Tate took on Cat Zingano in a #1 contender’s match, which she lost in somehow disputable fashion (the ref stepped in, but Tate felt she was still able to defend herself). This started the hype for Rousey vs Zingano, which would be centered around each lady coaching a team on the Ultimate Fighter program. Unfortunately, Zingano injured herself before the tapings could begin. This news was not made public to anyone, including Ronda until UFC president Dana White surprised her in the first footage filmed by having Miesha show up instead of Cat. It was also announced that at the end of the season, Tate would get another shot at being champion when she took on Rousey. For the 3 months of the reality show, both ladies peppered the other with true antagonizing, from middle fingers, to socks, to boyfriend involvement. By the end of the show, there was no doubt that these 2 females genuinely couldn’t stand each other (though Ronda was much more hostile, while Tate played with it as much as she could without it escalating).
On Saturday, the title match took place. Tate made more than a few fans from being a rather mature and calm coach on the reality show, and she received the louder ovation of the 2 combatants, even though she was a Vegas betting underdog of 7 to 1. Ronda received what WWE fans would call a “mixed reaction” but not on the level of a Cena reaction.
Ronda was taken past the 1st round for the first time, but still ended up winning in the 3rd round with her patented armbar. Miesha looked like a valiant challenger, taking a severe beating from the Judo expert and UFC Champion, but still coming back for more. After Tate tapped out, she stood up, and extended her hand to be shaken. Instead, Rousey turned her back, and suddenly it was like the UFC Universe transformed into the WWE Universe in a city like New York or Chicago, and John Cena made his entrance. The UFC has found themselves a Ric Flair: a champion people will pay to watch lose.
It would be impossible to recreate an exact replica of this drama with timing being the main reason. Tate vs Rousey has only taken place twice in 2 years, with a 3 month season of The Ultimate Fighter showcasing the most recent heat between the two ladies. There has been Twitter wars, press conference comments, several confrontations, and countless interviews that were used by the competitors to explain their disdain for each other. It all built up to a boil going into the fight last Saturday, and spilled over at the conclusion of the rematch the ignoring of the handshake.
This sort of scenario has taken place countless of times in wrestling. The difference here is that MMA is an uncommon place to find fighters playing “heels” or “faces.” It was a genuine moment of sportsmanship (or sportswomanship) that was also genuinely ignored. It’s also an angle we haven’t seen in a long time in wrestling, if ever (though I see similarities to teacher/student relationships like Sammartino/Zbyszko).
With the WWE Network on its way, now might be the time to try something like Tate vs Rousey. Use the exclusive programming to showcase how a respectful veteran can attempt to keep a brash rookie in check, only for it to escalate into a violent feud. The opportunities are there, the stars are there, the blueprint is there… but can WWE creative follow through?
And on that note, Peace out
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