Lately I’ve wondered if the UFC wants to grow more like a legitimate sport or settle with the healthy draw brought by pro wrestling, like the WWE?

On one hand, the UFC wants to be taken seriously like the other sports giants such as the NFL or NBA. On the other, the UFC also prides itself on offering entertainment that people want to watch, which doesn’t always match the legitimacy of its competitors.

The term “sports entertainment” is the murky gray area in which the UFC oscillates between being that, a sport, and entertainment. The UFC can boast having a number of the best fighters in the world and establishes a clear hierarchy of where they stand, yet the UFC isn’t beholden to having their best fighter’s face one another. Much like the WWE, the UFC sets up matches that will draw the biggest pay-per-view buys. Matches that the largest majority of people want to see.

This week it was announced that Chael Sonnen will face Jon Jones for the light heavyweight championship, a weight class that Sonnen hasn’t had a win in since 2006. There can be plenty of reasons why the UFC has made this match, but it cannot be argued that Sonnen is a deserving or legitimate challenger over any of the other top light heavyweights.

Such a decision has nothing to do with the purity of competition, but the money to be made from fans that are willing to buy the fight on PPV for their entertainment.

Fans of pro wrestling have stars that they enjoy and whose matches they will watch play out without worrying who is the better athlete at the end of the day. They understand that they are being entertained and the outcome doesn’t hold as much weight for the winner or loser as it does in MMA.

The endgame of the NBA and NFL is for the best team to emerge, entertainment is secondary.

The UFC gets to play both sides of this because its best fighters will emerge in competition, but fights can also be sold as entertainment without being held to a strict sports model.

For outsiders, that might be a concept that they will dismiss as not being a sport or as a sport that diminishes itself with throwaway fights that don’t have a legitimate impact on the division. However, I think sports fans are intelligent enough to understand that MMA is an actual competition without a determined outcome. MMA is not like professional wrestling in that aspect, but it does borrow heavily from it.

Chael Sonnen is a great example of how elements from pro wrestling are a part of MMA. Sonnen has been linked to WWE superstar CM Punk, and Sonnen’s gift of gab is most definitely on par with his wrestling contemporary. Sonnen might not be a relevant light heavyweight, but he sold himself as a challenger with his work on the microphone. This shows how the UFC will reward a big personality that entertains outside of the cage over established competitors. Fighters like Sonnen are a thorn in the side of hardcore MMA fans because he illuminates the business and entertainment that often precedes the sports element of the equation. However, he draws viewers into the UFC, and at the end of the day, that is a smart business decision.

Soon we will see popular mixed martial artist Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal simultaneously participating in pro wrestling with TNA and competing in MMA with Bellator. This is a move by the parent company of both promotions, Viacom, to maximize its fan base by drawing MMA and wrestling fans together. This is a smart decision because we know wrestling fans understand that they are watching entertainment. These fans will be an easier market than diehard sports fans who will be harder to capture due to viewing sports entertainment as an inferior level of competition.

The UFC had its largest PPV successes with former WWE star Brock Lesnar. So we’ve seen that professional wrestling and MMA do very well together, but that’s a specific niche of sports entertainment. It is more likely that MMA will become the next WWE before they become the next NFL.

We’ve heard UFC President Dana White tell us how the UFC is the next big sport, but they aren’t running themselves like a purely competitive sport. The entertaining aspects that help to sell the product of MMA are also what keeps it in its niche.

Photo: Brock Lesnar (Rob Tatum/The MMA Corner)

About The Author

David Massey
Staff Writer

David Massey studied Humanities and Art History at the University of Central Oklahoma. He first found interest in MMA from the first TUF show and has been hooked ever since. He began posting on mmajunkie then submitting Sunday Junkie entries and that began his interest in writing about MMA. Through twitter David found other MMA enthusiasts and began contributing articles to marqueemma.com. He looks forward to growing as a writer and being a part of the sport he loves.