Prior to his upcoming fight with Gilbert Melendez at UFC on Fox 7 on April 20, 2013 in San Jose, California, Benson Henderson commented to MMAFighting:
I don’t give a crap about pay-per-view stuff. I like fighting on the biggest platform and FOX is that platform.
I understand the sentiment that Henderson is trying to express here. He is basically saying that he prefers to fight on FOX because he is generally seen by more people than if he were headlining a pay-per-view card. But on the other hand, I really don’t understand the idea that fighters don’t have to worry about selling fights and promoting themselves. In the world we live in today, skills alone rarely sell fights. Unless you are a prodigy like Jon Jones or a ninja like Anderson Silva, very rarely are you able to generate pay-per-view buys without promoting fights. There is a reason why Tito Ortiz vs. Ken Shamrock 2 was one of the highest selling pay-per-view events at the time. It sold well because Ortiz and Shamrock knew how to use a feud to line their pockets with pay-per-view dollars.
The idea that a prize-fighter has to rely on the UFC to promote fights is laughable. Why do you think Muhammad Ali was one of the most popular fighters of all time? It wasn’t his skills. He was an amazing boxer but Sugar Ray Robinson is universally considered the best pound for pound fighter of all time. He was popular and made himself a lot of money because he was brash, unflinching, and knew exactly how to sell a fight.
Floyd Mayweather didn’t become the highest paid athlete in sports until he established the “Money” Mayweather persona. Once he realized that his skills alone weren’t enough to sell fights, he catapulted himself to a whole new level of stardom. Chael Sonnen realized the same thing and established his own persona that catapulted him into his third title shot in recent years on April 27, 2013. If Henderson is fine being a non-drawing lightweight champion, that is his prerogative. But, he has a clear misunderstanding of a fighter’s role in selling himself.
There is also a reason why Henderson is continually placed on FOX cards and not pay-per-view cards. The UFC knows he isn’t doing his part in promoting fights (either with his skills or his personality) so instead of putting him on pay-per-view cards, which are the big money-makers for the UFC, they put him on free cards. He can spin it any way he wants, implying that he “wants” to be on free cards, but in reality, the UFC is putting him there because he is not a draw.
If Henderson ever wants to be a star, make himself a lot of money, and establish his legacy as one of the greatest ever to fight, then he has to do what every prominent fighter in combat sports history has done: sell fights.
Photo Credit – Ron Chenoy – USA Today Sports