COMMENTARY | When Chris Weidman knocked out Anderson Silva earlier this year there may have been a slight sigh of relief let go from the lungs of the UFC upper brass. It's not as if they wanted to see arguably the greatest mixed martial artist in the history of the sport lose, but it sure changed things in their favor when it came to bringing the sport to the mainstream. Which is why when the two meet again on December 28, the UFC may be silently rooting for Weidman to prove that his first victory was no fluke.
Of course, there has never been a statement from Dana White or the rest of the UFC that has alluded to the company seeking a changing of the guard. However, when you look at Anderson Silva's history and his impact on bringing the sport to the masses, it only makes sense that having Weidman as champion could possibly do more to push UFC into the mainstream than "The Spider" has.
When it comes to bringing in casual fans, fighting is far more than what happens inside of the eight-sided battle zone. Silva may be considered to be the best to put on a pair of 4-ounce gloves but he's an enigma of sorts who is very difficult to market to the masses despite his mastery in the Octagon.
The biggest (and most obvious) obstacle for the UFC is dealing with Silva's limited English. He's added some of the native tongue of the U.S. to his Portuguese over the years, but not nearly enough for him to make appearances on late night television, participate in commercials and do interviews with a number of mainstream publications that are needed to bring the sport to viewers who do not watch every UFC event.
What also compounds matters is that Silva isn't exactly what you would call a media darling. He's been known to be reluctant to do interviews and participate in media obligations. For the UFC, that is an absolute public relations nightmare. He does partake, but is usually short with his answers and often acts as if he would rather be somewhere else. He leaves journalists with little to pull from for a story and, in turn, stories about Silva do not have a ton of depth.
"He doesn't like talking to the media, but it's part of his contractual obligation," White said to MMA Junkie after Silva skipped out on a media obligation back in May. "Everybody wants more money, more money, more money, but nobody wants to sell the fight or go out and talk to the media. Talking to the media is part of your job, whether you like it or not.""
For over seven years, Silva has had the UFC in a stranglehold. Being the best fighter on the planet sounds great to an MMA enthusiast, but in order to draw bigger pay per view sales, a fighter has to give something extra. You cannot simply be a great fighter in a day and age where social media is a dominant marketing tool. You have to be active and visible in every realm. Silva hasn't been that and perhaps it is time for a true changing of the guard.
Chris Weidman is no Floyd Mayweather when it comes to promoting fights, but he can do things that Silva is reluctant to do or simply cannot. For instance, when Weidman appeared on ESPN's First Take in July and September, he showed that he could be more than a fighter who talks about fighting. Rather than the tried and true song and dance where a fighter talks about training, being in the best shape of his life and not taking any fight lightly, the Hofstra graduate engaged in the always-spirited debate regarding former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow. No, it doesn't sound like a big deal but the fact that Anderson Silva cannot appear on American television regularly to promote his fights does hurt the UFC's bottom line to a certain extent.
Chris Weidman has proven to be a likable commodity who could grace the cover of a GQ Magazine, sit on the couch of Jimmy Fallon and do a commercial for Hanes. The UFC needs that as it enters 2014 and pushes to have a bigger year than the previous 12 months. The fighting part the UFC has down pat; it is now about crossing over to take the sport into the next level of success. And that next level of success is mainstream acceptance.
Obviously, Weidman has to go out there and win at UFC 168 before the UFC can even consider the various press opportunities. And it is not like Weidman losing to Silva is such a bad thing either. Trilogies have always proven to be moneymakers in combat sports. But the reality is that the UFC is entering a stage where it has outgrown being a niche sport and is looking to appeal to a casual viewer. Although the depth of a UFC fight card exceeds a pay per view boxing event, it still lacks the overall spectacle and grandiose that boxing's biggest events bring to the table.
The UFC needs something special and although Anderson Silva has proven to be that inside of the Octagon, Chris Weidman could possibly be the individual who can excel just as well outside of the cage as he can in it.
Andreas Hale is a former editor at websites including BET.com and HipHopDX.com. Today, he resides in the fight capital of the world and has covered boxing and MMA for mainstream media outlets such as MTV.com and Jay-Z's LifeandTimes.com, as well as die-hard outlets, including FightNews.com, Fight! Magazine, Ultimate MMA, CagePotato.com and others.You can follow him on Twitter (@AndreasHale).
- Mixed Martial Arts
- Martial Arts
- Anderson Silva
- Chris Weidman