In the modern world of social media, fighters don’t just battle to land punches – they battle for social media followers and trending hashtags.
It’s a common belief that combat sports – mixed martial arts, boxing, etc., are about gaining mastery of the body. That’s most certainly true and in many ways the fight is about controlling every movement of one’s physical self. However fighting is as much a mind game as it is a physical one. Keep in mind that, unlike in many sports in which the race could be against a clock, there is always an opponent in the ring or the octagon. There is always another human on the other side to challenge, to inspire and to overcome.
Fisticuffs and mind games
When the fighting arts are elevated to the professional level, the mind game spills out of the arena and into the war of words and showmanship that have become the hallmark of professional boxing and MMA. While everyone wants to see a great fighter, what they really come for is the electricity that’s been generated by incredible showman who bring the excitement before the fight. Of course the show is incredibly important, but the pomp and bravado that come beforehand is equally important.
In fact the two tend to go hand in hand – the greatest fighters are able not only able to trounce their opponent during battle by accurately assessing and judging their physical and mental status, they’re also able to accurately judge and assess their mental and emotional game outside of the ring. It’s easy to blow off the great showman of the ring and the octagon – Ronda Rousey, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Bruce Lee, Anderson Silva, Mike Tyson, Conor McGregor, Don “the Dragon” Wilson, Muhammed Ali, etc. as being more show than substance, but all of these great fighters were great because they could read people, in a fight and in real life. That’s why we love to watch them fight.
These fierce competitors took the skills that they learned during training and countless fights, then translated those same skills to the world outside the ring in order to make bigger and better names for themselves. They were and are masters of mind games that are necessary to build up those epic battles that drew the numbers to make them rich and famous. Today those mind games are won most effectively by the fighters that know how to work social media.
Brawling takes brains.
Boxing vs. MMA
Boxing is the sport of dollar signs. It has been for nearly a century, taking over first the radio, then the television, and eventually the pay-per-view screens. There is massive money to be had in boxing, made from betting cards as well as from ticket sales. Boxers who can do well in the ring and as expert showman have historically been compensated graciously, and the kind of money that Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed fought hard in the ring for wasn’t far from reality.
However the stranglehold that boxing has had on the purse strings was not destined to last forever. In the wide and wild world of combat sports, mixed martial arts (MMA) has been hot on the rise for over two decades. Whereas boxing limits combatants to a standing position in which the opponents can only throw and block punches, MMA allows fighters to throw punches and kicks, and also to take opponents to the ground for grappling maneuvers. Once extreme and horribly brutal, the UFC (by far the largest MMA circuit) offers controlled fights that stop short of extreme violence. Boxing by contrast is a fractured sport, with a half dozen promotional bodies vying for fighters and viewers.
This year marks the first time in history that MMA has the potential to overtake boxing in terms of global popularity. That’s an event that would have been unimaginable twenty or even ten years ago, but thanks to the incredible social media machine of Dana White, president of the UFC, it looks as though boxing needs to tuck in for a serious battle for relevance and money.
This social media monster could be seen on February 27th, when UFC London was put directly up against the highly anticipated Frampton vs. Quigg boxing match. Leading up to and following the fights, #UFCLondon was trending in the US, UK, Ireland, Australia and more, while #FramptonQuigg was nowhere to be found. In addition, #UFCLondon was found nearly one hundred thousand times on Twitter, while #FramptonQuigg was less than half that figure.
This year UFC fighters have graced the covers of Sports Illustrated and the SI Swimsuit issue, in addition to other front shelf magazines. None of the same can be said for boxing’s biggest stars. How did this happen? Dana White, president of the UFC is how.
No promotional body in the world of boxing has the social media power that the UFC has created. #AndNew, for newly crowned champions, and #AndStill, for those who hold onto their belts and purses, are the custom hashtags that accompany title fights in the UFC. Within minutes of a decision on the biggest pay-per-view fights (fights that cost $50 per household to see), these hashtags and their accompanying memes start to pop up all over social media.
That’s nothing to speak of the trash talk on Twitter, the floods of harsh staring weigh-in pics on Instagram, the slick advertisements and the video clips of training that the UFC carefully curates in the lead up to its biggest fights. Boxing has truly proven itself to be a 20th century game, where MMA is the herald of the new media.
However what’s come before is nothing to the battle that could be on the horizon, one driven by two savvy showman on opposite sides of the world and with vastly different promotional and fighting styles.
Mayweather vs. McGregor
What’s most amazing about the power of social media isn’t that it’s able to drive numbers to fights, what’s breathtaking is that it’s able to bring fighters together who would never have come together before.
Over the course of the last several months Conor McGregor, the Irish firestorm that is arguably the biggest name in the UFC today, has used the power of social media in an attempt to strongarm the UFC into providing better terms for his fights. He “retired” from fighting via his Twitter account as he trained in Iceland, then “unretired” shortly thereafter. McGregor is a master at mind games in the ring (check out those tattoos) and is the master of social media, using it not only to gain followers but to change the shape of business.
His bravado and his skill has attracted the attention of Floyd Mayweather Jr., the undefeated boxer and talented promoter who has made millions off of his fights. Looking for one more giant payday, Mayweather has found relevance again by challenging McGregor to fight. And where once an invitation might have gone out through promoters or newspapers, today fights are made via Twitter.
It’s critical to be clear here – the rules of boxing and the rules of MMA are wholly disparate. A boxer and an MMA fighter opposing one another would be like a football player and a basketball player trying to mix-up their sports to determine the best athlete – it just wouldn’t make sense. This is an impossible fight. Either fighter would have to give up his best skills in order to cater to the other – McGregor his grappling or Mayweather his defense. However, in world of social media, anything is possible.
Which man is the master of social media? Here are the numbers.
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/thenotoriousmma/
4 million likes
Instagram – @thenotoriousmma
5 million followers
Twitter – @thenotoriousmma
1.7 million followers
Big numbers? Absolutely. But in a battle for followers it’s not even close. Mayweather trounces McGregor.
Floyd Mayweather Jr.
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/floydmayweather
13 million likes
Instagram – @FloydMayweather
12.4 million followers
Twitter – @FloydMayweather
6.8 million followers
But while Mayweather may have it on McGregor, even as boxing’s biggest star (and the best fighter of all time according to many), the fractured nature of promotion in boxing versus the UFC’s unification of MMA means that Dana White’s promotional machine is the winner in the world of social media, at least on Twitter and Facebook.
Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/UFC
19.4 million likes
Instagram – @ufc
4.9 million followers
Twitter – @ufc
20.1 million followers
Who would win in a real fight between Conor McGregor and Floyd Mayweather? That’s a tough call. Mayweather is a seasoned, undefeated boxer who has perhaps never taken on a fight that he could lose. McGregor began his career as a boxer, is a fighter with an eye for new and old media, has an unorthodox training style and a penchant for unpredictability.
Word is that news is forthcoming of something that was once unimaginable and is still unbelievable – a McGregor vs. Mayweather (or would it be Mayweather vs. McGregor?) bout set for September. Whether those rumors turn out to be puffs of smoke or the real deal, you’ll be able to find out on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.