UFC Forces Fighter to Apologize for ‘Death’ Comments: Does this Help or Hurt the Company’s Image, Popularity?

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Earlier this week, former UFC champion Frank Mir spoke with radio station WXDX-FM in Pittsburgh about a potential third clash with current heavyweight champ, Brock Lesnar, who has been sidelined with mononucleosis since October 2009, and had the following words for him:  

“I want to fight Lesnar. I hate who he is as a person. I want to break his neck in the ring. I want him to be the first person that dies due to Octagon-related injuries. That’s what’s going through my mind.”

Shortly after his comments were made and garnered publicity worldwide, UFC president Dana White had Mir make a formal apology in a press release issued on Tuesday.

So my question is: Did UFC really need to make a press statement and force one of its “fighters” to apologize? Last time I checked, this wasn’t exactly a non-violent sport and part of its popularity was the brutal nature of the fights. This isn’t something where fighters are going to speak kindly of their competitors and look to have cookies and milk with them after the fight.

Since its first mixed martial arts (MMA) competition in Denver in 1993, UFC has faced an uphill battle in generating mainstream popularity and acceptance given how vicious these matches can be. However, the Company eventually achieved huge successes. In 2006, UFC generated more than $222 million in pay-per-view revenue, which was an all-time record for a single year of business, and in 2009 popularity surged with UFC’s 100th event,  which attracted 1.7 million buys on PPV.

UFC has spent almost 20 years building up its popularity, but given Mir’s comments this week, I’m wondering how this will affect the public perception of the Company with the mainstream audience, and with their loyal fanbase. Here’s a few pros/cons I came up with from a UFC point of view:

Pros:

  1. Any publicity is good publicity, and more people are going to sign-up to see what happens at UFC 111.
  2. We reacted quickly and made sure that the public doesn’t think Mir’s thoughts are a direct reflection of the Company and its other fighters.

Cons:

  1. This is a dangerous sport with passionate fighters, and we don’t go around issuing apologies – will our diehard fans accept this or will we lose them in the short-term?
  2. Just as we were skyrocketing in terms of popularity, this type of incident is going to kill our momentum and scare sponsors and viewers away.

I’m not saying that I agree with Mir’s comments or disagree with UFC issuing a statement, I’m just wondering if this hurts/helps their image with the fanbase, and whether or not UFC is going to lose some of the acceptance it finally secured with the casual fan. I think it’s probably going to be a little bit of both, but eventually this will blow over until this type of incident happens again … and it will.

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2 comments on “UFC Forces Fighter to Apologize for ‘Death’ Comments: Does this Help or Hurt the Company’s Image, Popularity?

  1. The UFC and Dana White have worked so hard to add legitimacy to the sport of MMA that a statement needed to be made. After all, the sport is still not sanctioned in New York and comments like Mir’s make it harder for White to breakdown that barrier (which he is close to accomplishing).

    MMA is ultimately far safer than boxing (in terms of serious, long-term injuries) but the old-guard hasn’t come around to that fact yet. But you also can’t deny the fact that this sport is huge with the 18-45 year olds.

    So I think in this case it’s a win-win for the UFC: The original statement from Mir gained the UFC some attention and White’s comments helped separate the sport (and himself) from the WWE (and Vince McMahon).

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