The UFC started off being promoted in a way that even the most hardcore WWE fans would look at and say, “WTF?” Early UFC was very hardcore, to say the least. It was promoted as a fight to the death, with absolutely no rules. Thankfully, there was a referee and nobody ended up being killed in the Octagon, but there were some close calls and absolutely ruthless moments.
When the UFC was purchased by Zuffa (Dana White and the Fertitta Brothers out of Las Vegas), they made a huge push to legitimize the sport. Instead of some barbaric death match, they were now promoting the UFC as a competition between two world-class athletes. It took a lot of work to get to where the UFC is now, but MMA fighters are finally getting the recognition that they deserve as actual athletes, not human cock-fighters. Their paychecks may not reflect their professional athlete status quite yet, but things are getting better.
Despite their push to be taken seriously in the mainstream as a top-tier sport, the UFC has still taken a lot of pages out of the WWE’s playbook. Let’s face it, when it comes to promoting an event and getting people’s attention, it’s hard to top the WWE. The whole spectacle of wrestling, by its very nature, allows them to go way over the top and to bend reality to fit their narrative. The UFC isn’t able to choose the outcomes of their fights, which makes it a little harder to carry on a plot like the WWE can, but there are plenty of examples of times that the UFC took a page out of the WWE’s playbook. Here are the top 10.
10. Kimo’s Entrance at UFC 3
Other MMA organizations, such as PRIDE and Bellator, have huge spectacles when the fighters would make their way to the cage, kind of like what you see in the WWE. The UFC generally avoids that, save for a few exception, one of which we’ll look at in just a few minutes. Early on, at UFC 3, a fighter named Kimo Leopoldo entered the arena carrying a cross on his back. He’s a deeply religious man (just check out those tats), but this wouldn’t be a great night for him.
Kimo was matched up against Royce Gracie in the first round of an 8-man tournament. His Taekwondo style was no match for Gracie’s Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. However, despite winning the fight, Royce had to pull out of the remainder of the tournament due to exhaustion.
9. The Most Hated Man in Brazil
The obvious choice for a list comparing the UFC to the WWE is going to be just about anything that’s ever been done, or said, by Chael Sonnen. Chael took a lot of classic wrestling promos, and repackaged them for the MMA audience. He’s often considered to be one of the best trash talkers, and it’s undoubtedly helped his career a great deal.
The amount of trash that Chael talked to Anderson Silva (at the time, the consensus “Greatest Fighter on the Planet”) was off the charts. Nothing was off limits for Chael. He made fun of Anderson Silva, all of his training partners, other Brazilian fighters, Brazil in general including their problems with poverty, and even went so far as to make some comments about slapping Anderson’s wife on the butt after she cooked Chael a steak. Sonnen went all in – and everyone was looking forward to seeing him get completely demolished by Anderson Silva.
But then the fight started, and Chael dominated Silva for the first four and a half rounds. Sonnen would get the takedown early in the round, which nullified Silva’s incredible striking, and basically beat him up with ground and pound for the better part of the entire fight. It was with just moments left in the fight that Anderson was able to dig deep, and to slip a triangle choke around Sonnen’s neck to submit him, and retain the title.
It was one of the greatest comebacks of all time, not just because of what happened inside of the cage but also because of everything that happened leading up to it. We were witnessing the bad guy (and the huge underdog), about to defeat the greatest fighter of all time, until Anderson showed the world why he’s the champ.
8. CM Punk
The UFC loved the huge numbers of WWE fans they attracted while Brock Lesnar was tearing through the HW division, so it shouldn’t be a huge surprise that they wanted to recreate the magic. The difference is, of course, that Brock was already an accomplished wrestler before getting into professional wrestling, whereas CM Punk’s background in martial arts involves wearing a white belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
It’s been a tough road for the Punk, because he was hoping to debut in 2015 but had to push that back due to an injury. His body has been completely beat up after a long career as a professional wrestler. The outcomes might be predetermined, but the pain and injuries are absolutely real. And they aren’t just performing 2-3 times a year like an MMA fighter- pro wrestlers are putting their bodies through hell on a daily and weekly basis.
Reports have been circulating that CM Punk has had a tough time adjusting to MMA. Rumors are that his sparring sessions have been so-so, and that the UFC is having trouble finding a worthwhile opponent that CM Punk could actually beat. If he goes in there and gets demolished, that kind of puts an end to the gravy train, but it would still make for a spectacle.
7. The Cringiest Heavyweight
Ben Rothwell gave one of the cringiest post-fight interviews ever after he beat Matt Mitrione. He basically tried to go full-WWE heel, but the interviewer had no idea what to expect, and didn’t acknowledge his shtick at all, which resulted in one of the most awkward post-fight moments you’ll ever see. Dude even dropped a “MUAHAHAH” to end the interview, but the guy interviewing him kept asking him questions. Everybody knows that you can’t keep asking questions after a guy has played the “MUAHAHAH” card. Come on UFC, get it together. If you want to play this game, play it correctly.
We’re not holding this against Ben; it was the UFC that dropped the ball here. Apparently, the interviewer had an ear-piece and they were telling him to keep asking questions about the fight, and he regrets listening to them. If they would have just ended this, it could have been a goofy and somewhat awkward interview, yet still hilarious, but instead it was just downright awkward. Nonetheless, Ben knows you have to make yourself memorable and just go for it if you want those title shots. He said it himself- it’s all politics at the end of the day.
6. Conor’s Coming Out Party
The UFC went all out for UFC 189 in Las Vegas, which took place on July 11th, 2015. Chad Mendes was filling in to fight Conor McGregor in the main event, as Jose Aldo had to pull out due to an injury. The trash talk from Conor toward Jose Aldo was very reminiscent of the types of things Chael Sonnen had been saying about Anderson Silva and Brazil.
On short notice, Conor and Chad were still able to build up a ton of hype for the fight. The UFC debuted a new, cleaner style of graphics for their broadcast. They also introduced a cool new technology that turned the floor of the Octagon into a screen, so previews of upcoming fights were projected directly onto the Octagon.
For the main event, both fighters had live musicians playing their entrance songs, and it was a very powerful moment overall. The UFC spent a fortune promoting this event. This was also the first event to feature Reebok as the UFC’s official clothing sponsor, so there were a lot of big changes taking place in front of the record-setting audience.
Aside from huge, epic, over-the-top WWE style entrances and a much cleaner, fresher production overall, the fights were also incredible, which is very important whenever you have a flagship card like this that’s introducing the sport to many new fans.
5. Dana White Is A Real Life Vince McMahon
When Vince started getting more involved with the plots in WWE, it opened up this whole other level. Things got very meta. It wasn’t just wrestler vs. wrestler anymore; there was a new wrestler vs. company dynamic which was introduced. It’s hard to say how close Vince’s on-screen character is to his actual personality in real life, but some accounts have said that it’s not too far off, even if it is somewhat exaggerated.
Dana White, on the other hand, is basically a real life version of the Vince McMahon character. He’ll completely speak his mind, he’ll call out fighters, he’ll blatantly lie, he’ll manipulate the media… He’s the mouthpiece of the UFC, and in many cases he’s also the fall-guy. Dana White is the face of the UFC, even though he only owns 10% of it.
4. Brock Lesnar
It doesn’t get much more WWE than Brock Lesnar himself. He’s one of the biggest wrestling stars ever, and that translated perfectly into MMA. Unlike CM Punk, who is trying to follow in Brock’s footsteps and transition into mixed martial arts, Brock is a freak athlete who actually has an impressive background in wrestling (beyond the “professional” variety.)
Along with a strong wrestling game, Brock also brought a ton of crossover audience and introduced a lot of WWE fans to the UFC. He had the biggest PPV numbers, and actually did pretty damn good in the UFC. His biggest issue was that he didn’t really like getting punched in the face (honestly, not many people do, with a few notable exceptions like Robbie Lawler, who tends to smile after taking a huge punch to the mug). Also, Brock had some medical issues that put a stop to his UFC career. If he had gotten into MMA a bit sooner, and more in the prime of his career, and before the health issues… we could easily be talking about Brock Lesnar as the best heavyweight of all time. He held the Championship Belt, which in and of itself is an incredible accomplishment, all things considered.
3. Sonnen v. Silva 2
The Sonnen and Silva build-up and rivalry was so WWE-esque that we had to include it here twice. If you thought Chael Sonnen was rustling people’s jimmies in the lead-up to the first fight, he took it to a whole other level for the rematch. Sonnen spent the entire time in between their fights talking about how he misunderstood the rules of MMA and thought that tapping out meant he just lost that one round, not the entire fight, since how could he be the loser after dominating Anderson for most of the match? His shtick definitely helped to sell the rematch and to keep people interested, especially since it seemed like Sonnen had actually been able to crack the Silva puzzle.
The first round of their rematch looked a lot like the first fight, as it involved Sonnen getting the takedown and controlling Anderson with his superior wrestling. However, the fight didn’t go beyond the second round, when Chael threw a spinning elbow, missed, and ended up on the ground with a terrified look on his face as Silva walked over and dropped a vicious knee, ending the fight.
2. Conor McGregor Screaming at Jose Aldo
After his victory over Dennis Siver at UFC Fight Night 59, Conor McGregor jumped over the cage to scream in the face of his rival and upcoming opponent, Jose Aldo. Conor had been pushing for a fight against Jose for quite a while, and Jose was expected to come into the cage after the fight (if Conor won) to lay down some promos to hype up their eventual match. However, rather than waiting for Jose to enter the cage, Conor jumped over the fence and ran towards Jose Aldo, screaming at him like a maniac. This stunt kind of backfired, because Jose Aldo didn’t flinch for a second, and just stood there and laughed in Conor’s face.
After months of taunting and ridicule, the champion Jose Aldo would finally meet Conor McGregor inside the octagon, and Conor (who Jose, the “King” had dubbed as his “Court Jester”) got the last laugh when he landed a clean shot and knocked out Aldo in just thirteen seconds. If something like that came up in the writer’s room for the WWE, they would have said “no way, that isn’t even remotely believable.” But in MMA, anything’s possible and sometimes the truth is even stranger than fiction.
1. Dana White Fighting a Fighter
Dana White has had a very public feud with former UFC champion Tito Ortiz. Tito used to be managed by Dana White, before Dana White became a part-owner of the UFC, along with another former champion by the name of Chuck Liddell. Chuck’s rivalry with Tito helped invigorate the UFC as they rose out of the “dark ages” that we discussed in the introduction. Dana’s rivalry with Tito, however, was just kind of weird. For starters, it wasn’t very professional for an owner of a company to be publicly talking trash back and forth with one of his employees. At one point, Dana stopped saying Tito’s name altogether, referring to him only as “dummy”.
The feud hit critical mass when it was announced that Dana White was going to fight Tito Ortiz in a boxing match. Remember, this isn’t like when Vince stepped into the squared circle with a wrestler, this was the President of the UFC planning an actual fight against one of his employees. Dana trained hard for the fight, but it never ended up happening because Tito Ortiz had to pull out due to an injury. This whole debacle was a loss-loss for Ortiz, who either had to lose to his boss (who isn’t even a fighter), or kick the ass of his boss (who already didn’t like him), in front of millions of people.
It’s for the best that it didn’t happen- it would have been a disaster. Based on the lead up and the documentary that was made about it, it seemed like there was an actual possibility of this happening.