SportsPop: How To Market MMA Pop-Culture Audiences

One thing I am consistently aware of is whether the UFC’s Pay-Per-View ratings are up or down. Type “MMA” into Google News after any event and multiple articles pop up discussing what the recent viewership trends mean for the sport. For true fans, it ultimately shouldn’t matter how many other people are watching, right? Wrong. More viewers means more money for the sport, which in turn attracts better and better fighters. While the UFC’s profile grows higher each year, when ratings slumped for a particular fight, casual fans get the impression the sport is a passing fad and tune out.

Casual fans are the people the MMA needs to attract for “UFC Fight Nights” to become major events, where everyone gathers to watch no matter how deep their interest lies. My girlfriend can’t name five Pro Bowlers, but watches games with me every Sunday. My mom hated professional wrestling and boxing but watched and cheered when Hulk Hogan fought Andre the Giant and Buster Douglas KO’d Mike Tyson. No one wants to miss events “everybody else” is watching.

To grab these casual fans, Dana White and the UFC need to push their fighters into pop culture. The WWF became huge after Hulk Hogan in “Rocky III,” making him the face of the league. Professional boxing entered its golden era after Muhammad Ali became a personality the public couldn’t ignore. MMA fighters need to be in blockbuster movies, TV shows and venues that attract more than the fans they already have. Win them over in another medium and they’ll follow you back to the thing you’re amazing at: fighting. That is exactly why the following projects need to get off the ground, featuring the UFC’s most popular stars.

Urijah Faber in “Point Break Two”

Despite his recent loss to Dominick Cruz, Urijah Faber is hard not to like. The California Kid is good-looking, comes off as a down-to-earth bro you can drink beer with on the beach and continues to be a ferocious competitor. If Faber got the right movie role, little girls would ditch their “Twilight” posters for one of him.

“Point Break” already has a cult following, so it wouldn’t be hard to sell the sequel. Make Keanu Reeves the bad guy in this one. He’s not doing anything anyway. His character, Johnny Utah, threw away his badge at the end and now can head up the new “Ex-Presidents” surfer/bank robber crew. Paul Walker can be the new undercover agent. And Urijah Faber can have a smaller role as one of the bank robbers. He can be laid-back until he suddenly has to kick some security guy’s ass. The 5-foot-6 surfer dude annihilating a linebacker look-alike would be awesome.

Fedor Emelianenko in “Rocky, Jr.”

“Rocky Balboa” is supposedly the last of the series. That’s a good thing. They made at least two too many anyway. However, that doesn’t mean Rocky’s son Robert Balboa doesn’t decide to become one of the best MMA fighters in the world. Sly Stallone can be his coach or even not participate, and Robert wins in memory of his recently deceased (brain aneurism) father.

Fedor Emelianenko will play the son of Ivan Drago, the evil Russian opponent in “Rocky IV.” Fedor doesn’t speak English, but neither did Dolph Lundgren. All he has to say is “I must break you” and that alone will justify the ticket price.

Georges St-Pierre collaborates with The Neptunes

Georges St-Pierre is arguably the best pound-for-pound fighter in the UFC and easily one of the most exciting to watch. The French Canadian champion is also known for picking the best in French language hip-hop as his entrance music. St-Pierre even freestyles in public once in a while.

He’s the perfect candidate for an athlete-rap album. I know they always turn out horrible, but The Neptunes production duo can make anyone sound good. They did it with Britney Spears. Plus, St-Pierre will be rapping in French, so Americans won’t know how bad the rhymes are.

Quinton “Rampage” Jackson in “The Junkyard Dog” biopic

Even if you’re not an MMA fan, you probably recognize Quinton Jackson from his role as B.A. Baracus in “The A Team” reboot. Doesn’t that make you a little more interested to see him fight? Of course. The movie’s publicity machine didn’t play up Jackson’s first career nearly enough. What he needs is a starring role that fight and film fans can get behind together.

A biopic about the ’80s professional wrestler Junkyard Dog who rose to stardom in the WWF and then tragically died in a car wreck after falling asleep at the wheel will be “The Wrestler” meets “Ray.” Academy Award voters will eat it up, and its success will send movie-goers to Jackson’s next MMA fight.

Kimbo Slice Vs. Forrest Griffin Reality Show

Kimbo Slice is a backyard fighter who rose to popularity via YouTube and became a professional UFC heavyweight fighter. While his MMA career didn’t pan out, he continues to be one of the internet’s most popular fighters. Forrest Griffin was a small-town sheriff in Georgia before going on Spike TV’s reality show “The Ultimate Fighter” and later becoming the UFC’s light heavyweight champion.

My premise for their reality show, “Slice Vs. Forrest,” mixes both of their pre-MMA careers. Each week a camera crew follows Kimbo Slice as he attempts to set up illegal fights at various locations. The fight themes can range from “lead pipe night” to “fists over troubled water” (where they fight on a bridge). Another camera crew follows Forrest Griffin as he and his sheriff buddies, including guest appearances by Steven Seagal, try to locate and bust Kimbo and crew before the fights commence. Sometimes they bust it and sometimes the fighters bust each other up. Exciting!

Photos: Getty Images