The UFC is Constantly Looking for That New Star Name… Have They Already Missed Some Opportunities to Build Superstars From Their Own Roster?
What makes an MMA superstar? You could argue that the UFC has only ever had two: Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey. Both of these fighters had unique traits. Rousey was a genuine tour de force when she was first signed, running through the bantamweight division and becoming an inspiration for women across the world.
Then McGregor became the first international star. His wit, charisma and exciting performances captured the imaginations of the world. We still haven’t got a star to replace either of these fighters. While in the ESPN era it’s not so important to have a single star, you do need some mainstream name recognition to sell a brand.
With this in mind, let’s check out some of the fighters who the UFC really could have promoted better. Who do you think we’ve missed?
Now with ONE in Asia, Johnson is the undisputed greatest flyweight in the history of MMA. Before his rematch with Henry Cejudo, he looked simply indestructible. He didn’t just beat fighters, he finished them in spectacularly exciting ways. Unfortunately, the flyweight division has never captured the imagination of MMA fans and the UFC never bothered to try and push it.
It’s weird when one of the greatest fighters on the planet, who set the record for most title defences in the promotion, is seen as dispensable. But sadly, that was the case. At least Johnson has the chance to prove himself in a deeper division with ONE.
It would be easy to forget the Australian exists from the lack of promotion for the UFC’s middleweight champion. Part of the problem is that he’s based in Australia, but ‘Bobby Knuckles’ is one of the most dangerous fighters on the planet. He’s been unlucky with injuries and has a mellow personality, but his capacity for violence speaks for itself.
Compare him to Israel Adesanya and you can see why the UFC prefers the Nigerian-born New Zealander as their 185lb king. Don’t sleep on Whittaker though. Adesanya has fought nobody like him and he could crush the budding star.
Now we have to admit, Rose Namajunas probably doesn’t actually want to be a star. She happily admits that her favourite place to be is in her garden and that she’d love to just settle down and become a farmer somewhere. ‘Thug Rose’ definitely has stardust though and could have been a superstar before losing her title to Jessica Andrade.
She has one of the most unique looks in combat sports. Her shaved head is iconic at this point within the MMA world and she somehow combines an inherent vulnerability with being an absolute savage in the octagon. She’s also incredibly exciting. Michael Bisping called her first round display against ‘the Pitbull’ the greatest display of movement and striking he’s seen by any fighter in the UFC. Too bad she got slammed unconscious in the next round.
The elder of the two Diaz brothers definitely has that touch of stardust around him. His personality is one of the most abrasive in the sport, but that is why fans love him. You could definitely argue that he’s been underused by the UFC though.
Sure he’s run foul of commissions in the past, and there’s not a lot the UFC could do about that, but surely they could have recognised that the man has charisma and attitude in spades? Nick Diaz could have been a huge star. Instead, he’s sitting back smoking joints.
The former welterweight champion never got that super fight he wanted. He was arguably a victim of his own success, getting his title shot after sensational knockout wins. However, two very technical fights against Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson and a clash with Damian Maia cost him in the eyes of the UFC.
He ran into conflict with the organization, who actively looked to depose him as champion, nevermind underpromoting him. It’s a pity because Woodley is a phenomenal athlete and MMA fighter. It remains to be seen how the UFC promotes their first African champion and the man who took Woodley’s crown, Kamaru Usman.
If you told the younger Diaz brother in 2016, after beating Conor McGregor at UFC 196, that three years on he’d have only fought once more and would be making a main card comeback in 2019 against Anthony Pettis, he’d have laughed at you. You’d think submitting the Notorious would allow you to assume his crown, but it isn’t that simple.
Diaz ran foul of matchmakers and couldn’t reach an agreement with the company. It feels a wasted opportunity as the momentum from his rivalry with McGregor has fizzled out. It’s a tale of what could have been…
The man still works as a fireman. Do we need to say anything more? Stipe Miocic might not be the loudest character on the UFC roster, but he’s the epitome of the American dream. He’s from an immigrant family who made it in the US and now he gives back to his community by actively saving lives.
Typically, the UFC was shortsighted. They saw Francis Ngannou’s biceps the size of Demetrious Johnson’s head and got excited when he KOed Alistair Overeem. Miocic was infuriated by his lack of promotion in the run-up to that fight and afterwards. Well, he’s coming back for his belt and if he beats Daniel Cormier will inarguably be the UFC’s greatest ever heavyweight. He could have been a superstar.
It’s weird to say this about the first woman in the UFC to become a two-weight champion, but does anybody outside the MMA world know who she is? On paper, Nunes has all the tools to become a mainstream star in 2019. As a fighter, she’s insanely destructive, with bonafide knockout power, KOing Ronda Rousey and Cris Cyborg.
She’s also the organization’s first LGBT champion, something that could have been promoted much better to attract and inspire a whole new market of fans. Instead of trying to shove CM Punk in our faces, showing off the Lionness would have been a much better bet long term. It’s just not good business.
Justino looks set to depart from the UFC after her next fight and test the free agency market. As one of the biggest names in women’s MMA and one of the greatest ever, she’ll have no shortage of suitors in MMA or boxing. However, her relationship with the UFC has always been a curious one.
If you look at the UFC rankings right now, the women’s featherweight division is the only one with no fighters ranked, except for current champion Amanda Nunes. They signed her as the greatest female fighter on the planet, but how can you promote somebody who doesn’t even really have a division around her? It’s ludicrous and no wonder why she’s happy to cut ties with the biggest MMA promotion on the planet. Totally misused.
GIVE THE MAN A TITLE SHOT. It’s outrageous that Tony Ferguson has yet to fight for the official lightweight title, despite going on a 12-fight winning streak in the UFC. Despite beating Donald Cerrone at UFC 238, he still might miss out on a fight with the winner of Khabib v Dustin Poirier, as Conor McGregor decides what to do with his life.
El Cucuy deserves better. People say that if you want to become a star you have to perform. Nobody has performed more than Tony Ferguson has. He’s earned that shot at the belt and it would be scandalous if he missed out on it.