This morning the Ultimate Fighting Championship announced that Chuck Liddell, former light heavyweight champion and the promotion’s most recognizable fighter, will appear on this fall’s edition of the ABC television show, “Dancing with the Stars.”
While the image of a stonefaced Liddell gliding around the studio floor with a scantily-clad instructor is amusing, the reality television show booking is a public relations coup for the UFC. After James Thompson’s ear exploded on CBS last year major networks might be skittish about broadcasting MMA but they still want some of that powerful pop culture mojo to rub off on them. And while there may be a spike (no pun intended) in 18 to 34-year-old men tuning in to DWTS this fall, it’s more likely that DWTS viewers will gravitate towards the UFC after becoming attached to Liddell.
The Indy Racing League experienced this phenomenon after champion driver Helio Castroneves won the competition in 2007. Open wheel racing has struggled in the United States since the rise of NASCAR in the 1990s. After Castroneves’ reality TV turn, women flocked to races not because they were all of the sudden enamored of Indy cars but because Castroneves was so dreamy. Now Liddell resides several notches down from the Brazilian driver on the charm continuum but he has a certain quality that some women gravitate to.
More than anyone, Dana White understands the power of reality TV. But he also knows that the real potential lies in turning those casual viewers into paying fans and to do that, Liddell will have to fight again. I would expect Liddell to be booked for at least one fight in the Octagon near the end of this season of DWTS to cash in on the exposure. Because no matter how he fares on the show, Liddell knows one dance better than any other.