#PRWIN: UFC: The Sport Built by PR

If you’ve tuned into ESPN within the last few weeks you’ve no-doubt heard about the boxing match between UFC fighter Connor McGregor and undefeated boxing champion Floyd Mayweather in a fighting event for the ages.

The two fighters at the top of their sport meeting head to head in arguably the stupidest sporting matches (Boxing vs. UFC), but one of the best PR stunts in recent history.

The UFC is not a new player to the world of PR.

UFC President Dana White got the Ultimate Fighting Championship to where they are by slugging it out with repeated publicity, turning UFC into the veritable monster that it is today.

Let’s discuss.

UFC was first introduced in the early 90s by Art Davie, John Milius and Rorion Gracie, billed as “The War of the Worlds,” which was to showcase different styles of martial arts (hence MMA or mixed martial arts) and show off the best athletes in the world.1

There have been many changes in leadership starting with those three and leading through the Zuffa years, but ultimately the helm of the ship went to Dana White, a former boxer and trainer, in 2001.

Since then UFC has been on a rocket ship.

Dana White was a businessman at heart and knew the power of publicity and used the media to get recognition from sports fans around the world. He applied these tools masterfully. Some of the things he did with the media are as follows: 2

  • Had fighters get trained by a PR firm on how to effectively tweet and to, and I quote, “Tweet your asses off.” White also had a team follow the fighters behind-the-scene to showcase the preparation, the trash-talk and the hype for the fights happening.
  • During interviews, White is brutally honest and shows off his own passion and doesn’t hide behind safe statements. UFC is a brutal sport so the captain can’t look soft. He’s been known to apologize to fans when a fighter clearly doesn’t put the effort into a fight (even when they are a superstar), just as an example. He’s also been known to rile fighters up against each other to build on the drama before a big fight. He’s a master at stirring the pot.
  • He effectively marketed himself. With his brash media presence, rough language and generally strong demeanor he led himself to be arguably the biggest “star” or “player” in the UFC. Compare that to Roger Goodell (NFL commissioner) who is booed by fans during the NFL draft.

Before mainstream media would pick up coverage for fights, Dana White looked to Twitter to reach fighter enthusiast blogs to build popularity. He’s also active on Twitter and despite his 1,000,000+ followers, he interacts with people often, which is something that is met with positivity.

All Dana White’s work paid off when Fox Media Group bought the multi-media rights to air fights in 2011 to a 7-year contract3 and just last year UFC was sold the Associated Press for $4 billion.4 The best part? Due to the success of Dana White, he was asked to stay on board as President of the UFC.

The UFC was built on PR stunts and that is proven even more so with the fight between Connor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather. This whole thing started in 2015 with the media. Connor McGregor featured in Esquire magazine after a big win saying he, “would be able to ‘kill’ Mayweather in a fight,” and clarified, “If you put me face-to-face with Floyd Mayweather—pound-for-pound boxing’s best—if I fought Floyd, I would kill him in less than 30 seconds.” That’s bold… and that got printed. 4

Fast forward two years and hundreds of articles later and the McGregor/Mayweather fight is happening. A $100 million-dollar fight.

If you’re not into fighting, all I’ll say on this fight is that this is a fight McGregor (UFC) is a complete underdog in. Mayweather (Boxing) is 49-0 whereas McGregor is making his first major boxing appearance at 0-0. Doesn’t take much to look at the odds there.

This is a major PR stunt and WOW is it disruption. This is going to be the major storyline of the summer of 2017 on all sporting sites as these two fighters prepare for their fight. Consequently, this fight brings two big sports together – of two disparate audiences into ONE BIG AUDIENCE. That, my friends, is DISRUPTION, EXPOSURE and INFLUENCE. This is what makes it a $100-million-dollar fight.

As PR professionals, we are going to be watching this closely as the press conferences start happening, the tweets (you KNOW Dana White is going to be all over McGregor about that), the trash-talk and the build-up to what might be a quick fight. It’s UFC at its finest and something that all businesses should look at when they want an example at what disruption can do in your industry.

I just wouldn’t punch anyone.


1 N.A “THE UFC”, Web June 21, 2017

2 G. Ferenstein “How Dana White Built a UFC Empire with Social Media” June 08  2010, Web June 21, 2017

3 J. Gross “UFC, Fox agree to seven-year deal” April 18 2011, Web June 21, 2017

4 N.A. “UFC Sold for $4b with Dana White to stay on as President” July 11  2017, Web June 21, 2017

5 C. Yuscavage “How Connor McGregor Turned a Blatant Publicity Stunt into a $100 Million Fight with Floyd Mayweather” June 15  2017, Web June 21, 2017