Last Call – Win the Crowd (and give ‘em something they’ve never seen before)

The UFC will celebrate its 20th birthday this year, and while that it something all MMA fans can be happy about, a milestone like this also means there are a few things that will sadden fans.

The aging stars who have entertained us for so long with great fights and fanfare—and who marshaled in a new generation of fighters who are younger, faster, stronger, and better—will walk away from the sport they love, leaving hardcore fans yearning for the good old days when Matt Hughes slammed Frank Trigg or when Rampage Jackson knocked out Chuck Liddell.image desc

Hughes announced his retirement just a few months ago, and pretty soon others will join the ranks of retired legends and make way for the next generation of stars. B.J. Penn, Matt Serra, Anderson Silva, Georges St-Pierre, Jake Shields, Dan Henderson, and Urijah Faber may not be old by definition, but the wear and tear these athletes have put on their bodies over the years will take a toll on them—the likes most of us non-professional athletes can’t even imagine.

But while these guys make way for the Jordan Meins and Pat Currans of the world, what lessons are they leaving behind for their successors? Sure, the younger guys may be more “well-rounded” than the ones who dominated the sport before them, but most of them lack the kind of star appeal that Chuck Liddell or Jens Pulver had at their command.

Perhaps MMA fans are simply too jaded to be starstruck anymore, or perhaps the age of social media makes our favorite fighters just a little too accessible to us mere mortals. When a human resources manager at a chemical plant in Lincoln, Nebraska, can have a Twitter feud with a UFC star—while it may be very cool for that guy to show off a Twitter conversation to a few of his friends—it does diminish the mystery that celebrities actually need in order to keep the buzz alive.

Whatever happened to less is more?

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t see the same kind of fan reaction to Rory MacDonald that B.J. Penn and GSP get. Even Jon Jones, arguably the best fighter of the new era of MMA and one who has enjoyed a lot of mainstream media attention, isn’t as revered as Liddell was in his prime.

Back then, all Chuck had to do was knock out people and do his patented arms-stretched-wide while screaming. The fans would go insane. Jon Jones has beaten a who’s who list of MMA greats and people still say he’s not exciting enough or he’s too safe or he’s fighting not to lose instead of fighting to win. Really? Because he looked like Jason Bourne to me when he dropped an unconscious Lyoto Machida on his face.

I don’t know what the kids today need to do to keep our attention anymore. Perhaps it’s a little bit Chael Sonnen and a little bit Ronda Rousey that every fighter needs in order to win the crowd. Or maybe there are just too many fighters for anyone, even the champions, to stand out anymore.

Mike Straka is a TV host, producer, and author. He has hosted MMA shows on Fox, HDNet, SiriusXM, and Spike TV.

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