Sunday, June 26, 2022

Randy Couture vs. Fedor Emelianenko Will Sell (Column)

Mike Jeynes of and reporting…

As Randy Couture leaves the UFC to pursue a bout with Fedor Emelianenko, pundits and hardcore fans alike are left wondering whether the fight will be a financial success. Will this be the first bout in MMA history to draw casual fans away from the UFC in significant numbers? No event to date has managed it, so why should this matchup be any different?

The simple answer; “It’s Randy Couture!”

The name is a byword for everything good about MMA. He was the face of the UFC and with that, the face of the sport amongst casual fans. Not only are people interested in `The Natural’, he’s one of very few fighters that transcends the sport into popular culture, appearing on mainstream TV shows and latterly in feature films.

However, the key to success for this bout is not Couture’s familiarity with the individual, rather it is whether or not he can mobilise fans en masse.

Watching MMA is a social occasion, especially amongst casual fans, whether it’s a group of buddies in their living room or a collection of know-it-alls at Hooters. Convincing individuals to watch your new promotion isn’t how you sell hundreds of thousands of pay per views — to do that, you have to make it cool to watch your event. You have to make it a water cooler topic of discussion and for that to happen Couture will need to milk the mainstream media for all it’s worth.

Luckily for Couture, the hard work is already done. For the last year Zuffa have pushed Randy as the face of the UFC and he has proved to be an entertaining and insightful interview throughout. Independently, Couture has also made himself extremely accessible to producers, offering “all access” to his gym whenever the opportunity has arisen. The mainstream media now trust and respect Couture and he will take advantage of that fact as much as possible.

Randy’s contract expires in 9 months. There will then be a minimum of 3 months fight promotion, meaning a likely bout date of December 2008. Whilst this is a long time out, don’t mistake it for time off. The coming year will see Couture cement his place in the public consciousness both as an MMA fighter and a mainstream celebrity, in turn maximising interest in the bout.

Once Couture returns from filming, he’ll appear on general sports shows to explain his departure from the UFC, criticising the UFC and promoting Emelianenko in the process. After a period of normality, Couture will be back in 2008 promoting The Scorpion King, and then just as the film’s hype winds down, his contract will expire and it will be time to push the marketing machine into overdrive.

Couture vs Emilianenko will be billed as the biggest fight in MMA history and given the USA vs Russia angle, as well as Couture’s “back from adversity” storyline, there will be a sprinkling of Rocky about it too.

Although casual fans would usually laugh at claims that “the biggest fight in MMA history” was taking place outside the UFC, this time they will take notice and believe it. Randy is a trusted and respected individual and the circumstances of his departure from the UFC back up the fight’s billing. After all, Randy is viewed by UFC fans as the best heavyweight on the planet, so why would be come out and say “no, it’s this guy”, if it wasn’t true?

So, with excitement peaking and the sport of Mixed Martial Arts firmly in the public eye, Couture will meet Emelianenko and the bout will beam live to homes (and more importantly bars) across North America.

Pay Per View buys of 350k are realistic, bringing the promoter an estimated $5.5m, whilst a live gate of 15,000 grosses a further $2-3m. TV deals in Russia and possibly Japan bring in further revenue, which coupled with advertising and merchandise should see the bout cover it’s costs and then some.

More importantly however, UFC fans will be exposed to a credible alternative for the first time. If M-1 and their associates get production values right from day one, people will talk about it the next day and a genuine contender to the UFC will be born. Their success beyond that point will depend entirely on their business acumen but without a doubt, if Couture vs Emelianenko does happen, it will be a watershed moment for the sport of Mixed Martial Arts in North America.

Mike Jeynes is proprietor of MMA Game — the Fantasy MMA Betting League


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