Legitimacy Doesn’t Need A Gimmick

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This piece takes its title from something Kumite’s Ross Stevenson said last night when we were discussing the tendency of some promotions to try and over-brand and this is the written down version of my thoughts on that.

It’s our firm belief that well run, legitimate MMA promotions have no need of gimmicks of any kind to sell their particular brand to the masses. It’s sport, so sell it as sport. However, MMA seems particularly afflicted with the apparent need of some promoters to try and add something extra that adds to their distinctiveness…

Every time I hear a promotion refer to their competition area by anything other than cage, or ring… I wince a little inside. Every time I see a ‘new and interesting’ take on the MMA formula, a part of my soul shrivels up and dies.

Does the Scottish Premier League need to brand it’s pitches distinctively from the English Premiership? Does the US PGA tour need to differentiate itself from the European tour with a slightly different set of rules?

Part of what makes the biggest sports in the world what they are, is that they are the same wherever you are. Football is football (sometimes called soccer, not to be confused with Aussie or American/Gridiron rules… crap, bad example), golf is golf, tennis is tennis and boxing is boxing.

It’s not a ‘court’ at Wimbledon and a ‘senate’ at Flushing Meadows. There isn’t a version of rugby where it’s acceptable to tackle someone around the neck. Sports THRIVE on a homogeneity of format, it helps the companies and athletes from one country to gain notoriety and fans in other lands, where the language may be different but the sport is the SAME.

Things like tournaments aren’t gimmicks, indeed they are the fabric of sport. Virtually every sport is centred around tournaments of some kind so the decision to use tourneys on occasion (perhaps to crown a champion in a division without one) or as a permanent part of your format (as Bellator do) is not a gimmick. It’s a booking choice, and actually one which embed a great deal of credibility to the promotion, as well as being popular with fans.

The need to rename your competition area, be it ‘the O-Zone’ or ‘the Pit’ reeks of a childish need for attention, a lame pro wrestling gimmick instead of meaningful branding or added value to your product.

In MMA, it’s a cage, you could maybe call it a ring, or an Octagon seeing as that term is pretty embedded and at the end of the day, accurate (so long as your cage has eight sides of course.).

Of course, if I hear that Manchester United have designated the pitch at Old Trafford as ‘the Devil’s Playground’ I’ll be swift in my condemnation of them as well.

Likewise, trying to mess with the one on one format of MMA is madness. Almost all variations are confusing, difficult to watch, inherently unsafe and basically reminiscent of scenes from films like Rollerball or the Running Man, which is hardly the image MMA really wants to be presenting to a still-hostile mainstream audience.

So rather than Ultimate Ball or Hip Show, could all MMA promoters please try and concentrate on the sport. Make the best match ups you can, book in a consistent and fair manner. Pay attention to fighter safety. Invest in competent commentators and ring announcers. Remember that presentation is all important and skimping on your visuals makes you and the sport, look small time.

Also please remember, that while ring girls are an intrinsic and established part of the combat spirits experience, you only really need one per round. You don’t need multiple strippers/dancers accompanying each fighter to the cage, and you REALLY don’t need confused soft core ‘dance’ acts between fights. We’re trying to drag the sport OUT of the back streets, working men’s clubs, tacky misogynistic pigeonhole, not nail it in there for all time…

MMA is a sport, a REAL SPORT and it needs none of the passing gimmickry that is favoured by pro wrestling or the kind of shows that go on Saturday evenings with vast foam sets and an overexcited presenter, to succeed.

Many promotions get this, and I commend the likes of Vision FC, Invicta FC, Cage Warriors and Bellator for striving to be as pure as is possible.

It’s not about garish titles, confusing new formats, celebrity appearances or the ring girls, it’s about two athletes competing, skill against skill, heart against heart. That needs to be the focus of the sport. Legitimate sporting contest.

No gimmicks required.
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