If the part-time mixed martial arts fan happened to catch the commercial for “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 20 they would be drawn in immediately. The opening moments of the TUF 20 commercial offer a black and white portrayal of the strawweight contestants lined up in clothing reminiscent of going to a club. It quickly shifts into scenes of red, white and grey where the words “Strength” and “beauty” are boasted.Finally the tigers emerge in a screaming match where stand offs and the coveted UFC belt is around one shadowy figures waist. But in between all of the superficial excellence of the commercials visual engagements lays a big problem. Why does the UFC need to use sex to sell its show?
Now the word sex may be a little to extreme, but to some extent that’s where “sex appeal” lands into the hands of the public. This season is the first full cast of women, but it is not the first season which represented a female division. Season 18 of TUF included a bantamweight cast of half women and half men. Both of these teams were guided by two of the best female fighters in the organization at the time–Miesha Tate and Ronda Rousey. What is interesting is the advertising for this particular season was much more classic–showcasing the fighters, the first episode and the drama which would eventually ensue. In comparison with TUF 20, what is more engaging in the commercials, what the women look like or how they fight? I personally wasn’t sold on their skills as fighters just by watching the commercial; perhaps leaving me wanting more is precisely what the UFC wants. But to some extent it makes sense from the UFC’s perspective, because ratings have been down for the show since season 16. Why not take advantage of something all marketing platforms knows works or at least grabs peoples attention.
But that’s not the only problem.
Why is it necessary for the UFC, the largest mixed martial arts stage in the world, with some of the most marketable fight selling by using platforms such as UFC Countdown, and Primetime, feel the need to make a women’s sexuality just as important as her skills? Mixed martial arts is one of the only sports in the world that allows female fighters to graze the same canvas top as her male opposites. It is one of the only sports where women don’t have to totally compete as a different, less financial and less respected athletes, compared to other enormously grossing sports. So why take that avenue?
The show has been on for years, yes. Therefore, perhaps the need for ratings is in a dire situation. But other side of the coin is that Women’s MMA is a rather growing niche, since the reign of Ronda Rousey or even strike force heavyweights like Cris Cyborg, MMA fans have come to respect and enjoy female fights as much, or sometimes more then men’s; so again, is it necessary? It takes away from the genuine excitement about the female athlete as a warrior. It makes her into a object of advertising as opposed to someone who can rank as well or even better than a male fighter.
I know that Ronda Rousey received a lot of slack for her shoot with ESPN for their annual “body issue”, as she posed naked with pink wraps on in a cloudy setting. This of course could add to my argument; but the difference between that and this, is the entire magazine is dedicated to the exposure of today’s athletes hard work–as shown through physical attributes. Its a sensitive line, but logically it makes sense. Also she isn’t the one who should be singled out for this as the likes of Gina Carano, Jon Jones and Miesha Tate also took the challenge alongside other top athletes. But now I digress.
Another blatant issue that needs addressing in the TUF 20 commercial is, where the hell is Gilbert Melendez and Anthony Pettis? Two of the most entertaining lightweights, including the current 155 champion is no where to be seen in the advertisement. The coaches are an integral part of the process; the driving force for the failures and successes seen on the show–why not highlight this? I would argue its because the UFC are to eager to present beauty over excitement. And so it seems that the UFC’s decision to utilize sex to sell didn’t work after all, as according to cagepotato.com its debut episode only pulled in 536k making it the worst rating for a debut in the entire shows history. Like I mentioned before, the ratings were already on a decline–but this debut made it official.
The biggest question is, what does this mean for the strawweight division and WMMA? Are people really not interested in seeing the growth of a potentially incredible weight class? When the lighter weight classes such as the male flyweight and bantamweight were introduced into the UFC, fans witnessed some of the fastest paced fights on their pay-per-view. Women’s MMA I would argue offers the same excitement.
Overall though, ratings may have nothing to do with the gender of the fighter, but merely that people really don’t care anymore about the show. After 20 seasons, one must expect that a decline would come. This is something the UFC cannot change.