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Editorial- A Tale of Two Empires: Comparing the WWE and UFC Monopolies, Part 1

The rise of WWE as the name brand in American pro wrestling and UFC as the name brand in global MMA actually has more in common than one might think. Could the WWE be an indicator for where the UFC is going?

As a kid growing up in the 80's, pro wrestling and hockey were my two favorite sports to watch. Of course I found out early that pro wrestling was a show, but athleticism is needed therefore the term sport is used. By the way, if darts can be called a sport why can't pro wrestling?

I write this as a former fan. I used to be a fan of pro wrestling but I stopped being a fan in 2002. I was a huge fan of UFC from 2004-2005, then I discovered PRIDE and while a fan of UFC, was more a fan of MMA especially the PRIDE brand. From 2008-2009, I drifted away from MMA into Japanese pro wrestling where I gave it up and started following K-1 in 2009 where I am now a fan of K-1, Shootboxing and Boxing.I am not even going to mention how much money I spent on wrestling and MMA DVDs, video games and tapes over the years.

I just wanted to give a little of my former tastes so that as you read, you can read knowing that I am not just giving a biased opinion, but as one who been there and done that. Enough preamble, let's begin with the similarities.

1. Both WWE and UFC started off as spectacles doing what no one did before.

Before WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) was WWF (World Wrestling Federation). Before the WWF was the WWWF (World Wide Wrestling Federation). The WWWF was owned by Vincent McMahon Sr. He had the WWWF as a prmotion on the upper East Coast of the US. Back in those days, pro wrestling companies were divided up into different reigons. Promoters had these invisible barriers that they respected.

Vincent Sr then sold the WWWF to Vincent Kennedy McMahon Jr. He renamed the company the WWF and he started selling syndicated shows to networks outside the invisible border. He then crossed into borders, promoting shows and he expanded nationally. He bought out many regional territories and crushed those who refused to sell. He would scoop up all the best talent from an area and cut the fat, ensuring his roster was the best.

At this time, pro wrestling was still regarded as a sport, so Vince McMahon Jr, made the WWF into a spectacle. Instead of wrestlers being athletes, and even instead of being called "wrestlers" they were called "superstars." Gone was the illusion of pro wrestling being real, the closely guarded secret of matches being predetermined was let out. Vince had his WWF rock and roll wrestling show and he created musclebound superheros and cartoon characters.

Catering to families, the formula worked and WWF reached mainstream attention thanks to the partnership of Vince as promoter and Hulk Hogan as the biggest and best superhero cartoon character. His All-American persona was adored by fans all over the world.

The UFC in 1993 was a spectacle too. Before Zuffa was SEG, Semaphore Entertainment Group. The Ultimate Fighting Championship was conceived largely by Rorion Gracie. The official purpose was to settle the question, "What was the best martial arts style?" Some have alleged that the UFC first existed as a platform for the Gracies to sell tapes.

The first UFC was brutal to watch. With the four person "commentary" made up of people who didn't know what they were talking about, to the fights, it was brutal. From Gerard Gordeau knocking out a sumo wrestler's tooth with a kick to Zane Frazier getting beatdown. Add to that Rorion's ugly refereeing skill, and it was brutal.

It was also a spectacle in that in featured pure style versus pure style and it was predictable. It was an 8 man tournament and the advantage obviously went to the grappler. All Royce had to do was grab the guy and use his Gi to get a choke.

UFC gained momentum though, and they brought in John McCarthy as a referee. He was no-nonsense and they played up the fact he was a former cop. There were few rules, as  Keith Hackney showed in UFC 4 as he relentlessly pummeled Joe Son's testicles.

Enter UFC 6 and here came the Tank. Tank Abbot was a disrespctful trash talker who was a wild brawler. He was the first to wear the modern MMA glove. His knockout of John matua was ugly. I was stunned when at the age of 17 I saw Matua laying on his back, his leg stiff in the air because his brain short circuited from a punch received by Tank while John was on his back.

Then of course we get to men like Mark Coleman, Don Frye and Mark Kerr who were wrestlers able to take men down. Because they lacked submission skill they came up with something new. They would tackle a man against the fence and pummel him ruthlessly, it came to be known as "Ground N Pound."

2. Both WWE and UFC faced harsh opposition from the Government...and Won.

Vince McMahon had a big problem in the early 1990's. The Government had it in for him so they launched a federal investigation into him. The charge: Distributing Steroids. According to his autobiography, Hulk Hogan said that he was on Arsenio where the question was raised and he hemmed and hawed instead of being straight up. Yes, pro wrestlers did steroids. However, hockey players did, football players did, bodybuilders did. In the 1970's steroids were common because nobody knew the harmful effects right away.

However, the trial was set, and everybody wanted Vince to go down. One problem, nobody could prove Vince distributed roids or made them available. Vince was acquitted, but the damage done to the company was severe. By this point, the kids were getting tired of the cartoon rock and roll wrestling show, Hulk Hogan was exposed as a phony and the company lacked direction. Vince tried to bring in new names, have new champions, create new characters. However, with characters like Papa Shango, who was a voodoo priest, Repo Man, Duke Drose who had the character of a garbage man...it stunk like trash.

Also, Vince couldn't use the bodybuilders he had in the 80's because, while acquitted, he had to be careful. The result was a stagnant product that capture anyone's eye. Yes, Vinny Mac beat the charges, but his business took a nosedive.

The UFC had the same problem with the Government. Even though it was a spectacle, people loved it. UFC gained momentum with each show. Starting with UFC 5 there was a Superfight title along with the tournament. UFC had shows in Brazil and Japan. The fighters developed reputations like ABC naming Ken Shamrock "The World's Most Dangerous Man." UFC was attracting people from all kinds of sports, like Ken Shamrock, Frank Shamrock, and Bas Rutten from Pancrase, Ron Van Clief who was a Karate master and movie star. It also attracted Vale Tudo fighters from Brazil, Professional Wrestlers from Japan like Sakuraba Kazushi and Collegiate wrestlers from the US. The Americans saw UFC as a way to continue their careers because as popular as wrestling is in high school and college; the only places you can go are the Olympics or home.

The UFC's Just Bleed Guy was the embodiment of the UFC fan. They wanted blood and gore, broken bones and shattered faces. Tghe UFC was giving a lot with their relaxed rules. In fact, itstead of MMA it was known as NHB- No Holds Barred Fighting. Fighting in the Cage only made it seem edgier and more dangerous. It even attracted Hollywood attention as UFC had a scene in the film Virtuosity. As Denzel was chasing Russell Crowe through a stadium, there were UFC fighters in a cage all fighting each other in an orgy of testosterone feuled mayhem.

Of course, that kind of attnetion will attract detractors. John McCain started a campaign. Was it ever successful. He tried to peg UFC as human cockfighting and with guys like David "Tank" Abbot saying he was sexually aroused from beating people down to teeth being knocked out, Marco Ruas stomping on people's feet, 200 pound guys fighting 400 pound guys, muscular wrestlers pinning people against a fence and pummeling them...Sen. McCain had plenty of ammo in his gun. In Canada, programs like The National did exposes into UFC highlighting the brutality and barbaric nature, calling it "modern day Gladitorial combat."

Despite its popularity, the Government cracked down and cracked down hard. UFC was illegal in many places. It was driven underground and even wnet through a dark period where it couldn't be purchased on tape. SEG was in dire trouble, so they sold UFC to Zuffa in 2001.

Of course, the rest is history. The Fertitta brothers, particularly Loreno, used his business and athletic connections. He is a former head of the Nevada State Athletic Commission. He and Dana White were able to get events sanctioned and regulated. Of course, it was sacntioned by boxing guys who didn'twant UFC to intrude, but momentmum grew. UFC began, since 2004 a steady push into mainstream acceptance. With sponsors like Bud Lite, signing TV deals with Spike and Versus and their PPV buyrates, they largely succeeded. Even though some regulating bodies still resist, UFC is a juggernaut that overcame McCain's initial opposition.

In Part 2 we'll look at another big past similarity and a possible future similarity.


Post new comment
Rob, Holland reporter (1964 posts)
Posted: 2011-03-16 at: 02:09
Lovin' it!!! Very good piece, well written and just as educational as entertaining :D
Can't wait for part two..or even any other subject you're gonna write about! Keep it coming my friend :)
GOD (74 posts)
Posted: 2011-03-16 at: 06:12
very insightful
Kim, Editor (1548 posts)
Posted: 2011-03-16 at: 09:49
Awesome reflexion and really enjoyed reading it. Thanks!
torazulu (580 posts)
Posted: 2011-03-17 at: 12:35
Hat-down, top-notch unbiased article from a long time fan...Pure Gold!
D-rop, Video editor (2420 posts)
Posted: 2011-03-17 at: 02:44
Great read!!
Already looking out for part 2!
Cdn Mongoose (1425 posts)
Posted: 2011-03-17 at: 02:35
A nice read.

But remember although athletic, pro wrestling is not sport. It is not governed by athletic commissions as regulated sports are. Dana White has stated that the UFC used the WWE model for it's marketing strategy. So the comparisons are obviuos.

Please do not blur the fact that pro wrestling is a live stage play. The focus should be on the promotion and marketing aspects not on the athletes. There are steroid allegations in all sports. Clearly the most neglected medical aspects for pro wrestlers are pain killer addiction and post concussion problems. Since the pro wrestlers are not protected by athletic governing bodies they are not subject to close monitoring of head injury. Take Chris Benoit for example.

Don't you just wish FEG followed a marketing example like the WWE or UFC instead of their own spit into the wind marketing campaign.
(257 posts)
Posted: 2011-03-17 at: 07:28
@Cdn Mongoose In 1989, Vince McMahon leaked that pro wrestling was staged and it caused such a controversy Lou Albano almost had a fit on the news. Here's the link of part 1 of 3 parts:

h ttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lWzeoSCoPNQ
< br/>Hogan said in his autobiography that Vince leaked it because he wanted to get away from regulating bodies. In his 1999 book Mick Foley said that in a match in Maryland in the early 1990s he had a cut suffered from a mishap with a guard rail. The Maryland State Athletic Commission paid for in-ring accidents but not accidents out of the ring. The only way he avoided paying for it was because Harley Race intimidated the doctor into believing it happened in the ring.

So there have been authoritative bodies regulating pro wrestling. Also, in the first paragraph I qualified the use of the term sport. Also, since the Benoit incident, WWE has been forced to adopt a "Wellness Policy" in which there is regular, independent rug testing.

Also, the comparisons aren't that obvious, especially in part 2. Looking at the history, it's almost surreal how similar they are in terms of how things have unfolded. They are very different products even if Dana took lessons in advertising his in a similar manner, but their rise is very similar. The PRIDE FC purchase blew my mind years ago, but the Strikeforce prompted me to write this article.

As for FEG, yeah, I wish they had done more intentional marketing. They had the best stand up fighting with a good history. A shame they were so haphazard about it.
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Shootboxing Canuck

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