Former WWE creative writer Freddie Prinze Jr. recently appeared on Ariel Helwani’s MMA Show and an interesting point was made during the segment. Helwani asked Prinze Jr. if every fighter in the UFC looked the same and that with an event happening each week, whether he felt it was hard for fans to get emotionally invested in all the athletes.
When it comes to attire, this is most prominent during press conferences or media events. As Conor McGregor stated in that famous UFC 205 press conference, “they’re all trying to dress like me,” referring to how nearly everyone now wears designer suits.
But outside of that, it’s hard for fighters to look different because of the Reebok deal. They must all wear Reebok gear not only inside the Octagon but during fight week as well, leading to everyone looking the same. Compare this to the days where fighters had their own sponsors and colorful attire.
“Once they sign that Reebok deal, a lot of these people just can’t get their personality over,” Prinze Jr. said. “[For example] Angie [Angela] Hill, she’s a cosplayer, she’s a friend of mine. Her cosplay at the weigh-ins is heavily limited like all she can really do now is face paint because of all these rules of what you can and can’t wear.
“You kind of have to be a star in the ring for the UFC to sell you right now. You don’t have the opportunity to build anything outside the ring.”
There are exceptions, however.
One just needs to look at Colby Covington for a start. When you think of Covington now, you think of that red MAGA hat that he parades around as much as possible for interviews or his Instagram posts. It’s almost come to define him now.
“Chaos” put himself out there with this political gimmick and as a result, met with Donald Trump last year and also received a shoutout from him before his recent UFC Newark fight earlier this month.
The fact that Covington was reportedly close to being cut from the promotion after his fight with Demian Maia in 2017 — which later resulted in him being on a five-fight winning streak at the time — further shows that being a good fighter is not enough anymore.
And in that, comes the issue of the number of fighters and events taking place. With a stacked roster, new signings taking place virtually every week, and 16 events set for the next 19 weeks, it’s hard to invest time in everyone, especially when even the most die-hard fans can suffer from burnout.
As pointed out by The Athletic’s Ben Fowles, only a few like Nate Diaz can stand out today from what is becoming an overabundance of talent.
“You know the big problem with the UFC’s bloated roster and weekly fight nights? It’s not the lack of talent; it’s the overabundance of it,” he wrote. “There are so many good fighters that simply being a good fighter isn’t that remarkable. That’s why Vicente Luque can win six in a row and still be forgotten by the time they mop up Mike Perry’s blood. It’s why Gregor Gillespie can go undefeated and still it takes people a second to go, ‘Oh right, the fisherman dude.’
“What we’re missing are those capital-g Guys. We’re missing the kind of people who felt like they mattered even when they weren’t fighting, the ones who could transcend the dull monolith of the Reebok fight kits.”
Diaz is certainly one of them, but it’s important to note that even with his popularity, he required a win over the biggest star in UFC history to truly receive mainstream attention. With his first fight in nearly three years taking place this weekend at UFC 241, it will be interesting to see how the numbers do.
The point, however, remains. A large bulk of fighters are struggling to get over with the fans and it’s not their fault at all. A few are figuring out ways to stand out, but as long as the Reebok deal and the issue of overabundance remains, it will continue to be difficult to make fans care.