The disrespecting of Amanda Nunes and the real reason she’s not the UFC’s biggest star
There was a time that Top Rank thought Floyd Mayweather Jr. wasn’t marketable and allowed him to buy himself out of his contract. Mayweather had the foresight to see that he needed to create a reason for fans to care. Whether they loved or hated him, they were interested. And even though he was rarely in a fight that fans would deem as “exciting,” Mayweather’s persona was one that elicited a response from a general audience. Top Rank didn’t see it at the time and it subsequently held back the man who would be the biggest star the boxing universe had ever seen. This is not to say that Amanda Nunes needs to go out there and trash talk her opponents, wear gaudy jewelry and have run-ins with the law. But what this is suggesting is that the baddest woman on the planet has a story to tell. She’s piqued the interest of people across the globe due to her scintillating performances in the Octagon, but now we need a reason for the casual fan to invest in her. Amanda Nunes has a story to tell and the UFC simply isn’t telling it nor are they putting her in a position to succeed outside of the Octagon. Join DAZN and watch more than 100 fight nights a yearBusiness analyst Darren Rovell has drawn the ire of White by suggesting that wins over Ronda Rousey and Cris Cyborg were “brutally damaging to UFC” because the Brazilian doesn’t have the same selling power as the two women she defeated. White fired back at the UFC 239 post fight press conference: “He says ‘the worst thing that ever could’ve happened tonight is Amanda Nunes won — she’s not a star for the UFC.’”This is the second time that White has addressed Rovell and he doubled down. “This is the type of stupid s— we hear,” he continued. “Amanda Nunes is a star. You get to a point where you can’t deny anymore. You can’t deny anymore. Amanda Nunes is the s—.”Rovell has attempted to back up his claims by citing Nunes’ PPV numbers for events that she has headlined. UFC 215 saw Nunes successfully defend her title against Valentina Shevchenko, while UFC 224 saw her put a beating on Raquel Pennington. Both events failed to eclipse over 100,000 buys. Watching Rovell and White go back and forth makes you realize that neither man comprehends how this has gone wrong and have allowed their respective egos to take center stage than address the real issue. The failure of making Amanda Nunes a star began shortly after she defeated Valentina Shevchenko at UFC 196 and punched her ticket to a title opportunity against Miesha Tate, who had choked out Holly Holm in the co-main event of that very card. A pay per view that was headlined by Conor McGregor vs. Nate Diaz. The spotlight was on, but the UFC didn’t quite see what Amanda Nunes was about to become. It’s forgivable considering that much of the attention surrounded Conor McGregor and Nunes wasn’t much more than a table setter for a monster PPV that drew over 1.3 million buys. Meanwhile, Miesha Tate pulled off a stunning comeback to beat the woman who beat the woman when she submitted Holly Holm to claim the UFC women’s bantamweight title. It set the stage for a title clash between Tate and Nunes at UFC 200 in 2016, which was marred by controversy when Jon Jones infamously was pulled from the card just three days before his scheduled fight with Daniel Cormier for an Anti-Doping policy violation. Tate-Nunes would be elevated to the main event where Nunes ran roughshod over Tate, eliciting a submission in just over three minutes to claim the women’s bantamweight title. Again, with so much going on, an oversight in marketing Nunes would be forgivable. However, you have to recognize the train before it leaves the station. And that’s something the UFC would fail to do.What was unforgivable was the build for Nunes’ first title defense against the returning Ronda Rousey at UFC 207. Without knowing what the former champion had left after being knocked out by Holly Holm a year prior and with Rousey unwilling to participate in any press events to build toward her return, the UFC had a golden opportunity to begin building a new star in Nunes by presenting her as more than a viable opponent. Hell, Nunes was the champion and treated like the challenger.Instead of building Nunes, the UFC opted to have the entirety of the promotion surrounding Rousey’s return and actually went as far as completely excluding her from the first run of promotional ads heading into the fight. The entirety of the promotion was built around Nunes being nothing more than collateral damage for Rousey’s return. And the UFC couldn’t have been more wrong about it. Nunes needed only 48 seconds to send Rousey into exile and put an end to her era. But the problem was that the UFC did very little to create a star to replace the one who would depart their promotion forever. It should have been a no-brainer to capitalize on creating the next big thing in Amanda Nunes, who halted two women who were responsible for bringing women’s MMA to the forefront. Instead, the UFC was left with a new champion that nobody knew.That’s the UFC’s fault. “Nothing about me. Everything about her [Ronda Rousey],” Nunes said in an interview with FOX Sports about the UFC’s promotion of her fight with Rousey. “I was the champion, and to go through that was pretty hard and it hurt me a lot. All the promotion, all the TV. I was pissed off.“[Ronda] did a lot for this sport, she was the most dominating for a while. But now everything is changing. This sport is moving forward. And she takes days off. It’s her fault, it’s not my fault. Now we have a new champion, the UFC has to be everything about the belt, that’s why I have the belt!”She’s not wrong.The subsequent pay per view events that Nunes headlined performed poorly for two reasons:Terrible undercardsUnderwhelming oppositionIn the case of UFC 215, where Nunes defeated future UFC flyweight champion Valentina Shevchenko, a look at the card revealed a paper-thin run of fights that drew very little interest. Her next title defense at UFC 224 was against a woman who got the opportunity due to the lack of talent at the top of the division. Also, the undercard was underwhelming. In that sense, Rovell is correct in that Nunes was unable to draw on her own. But the problem isn’t Nunes as much as the shouldering of the blame should go to the UFC. Where he’s loud and wrong is in his comment that Nunes isn’t marketable. Being the first openly gay UFC champion should have been a key selling point for Nunes and an opportunity to tap into a market that the mixed martial arts promotion had yet to even attempt to crack. Superstars aren’t created by simply defeating opponents; they have to be positioned properly to succeed. In order to crossover, you have to catch the casual fan and give them a reason to root for the fighter, not the fight nor the promotion that he or she fights for. The UFC has given the casual fan no reason to be interested in a Brazilian wrecking machine with a sense of humor that is in an openly gay relationship with another UFC fighter.This isn’t rocket science, guys. The lack of support from the UFC’s marketing team has hurt Nunes more than helped because they either don’t understand how to position Nunes or simply don’t care. Either answer is the wrong one. It’s important to note that the UFC has always had difficulty marketing fighters of color to a broader audience. Champions such as Tyron Woodley, who happened to appear in the N.W.A. biopic, have been in the news more for his dustups with Dana White than his story being a fighter from Ferguson, MO. – the very place that Michael Brown was fatally shot by a police officer and sparked countrywide outrage – as one of 13 children. Instead of focusing on building Woodley as one of the most dominant champions in welterweight history, who can identify with an African American audience that has been criminally underserved by the UFC, we’ve been treated to constant criticism from White in suggesting that Woodley didn’t really want to fight. That’s not how you build stars. Meanwhile, Colby Covington won an interim title and met Donald Trump at the White House. While the only thing the division’s then-true champion met was criticism. The picture is being painted; you just have to be willing to accept it. And that picture lacks color.Every fighter has a story and the UFC only really knows how to tell one to a very specific audience. The UFC had little trouble positioning Sage Northcutt and Paige Van Zant to mainstream acclaim with sponsorships and magazine covers. Neither has had the success that Nunes has had in the Octagon. But, for them, it’s an easy subject to market. Nunes, for whatever reason, is more complicated for them to market. Why Nunes hasn’t been a symbol for Pride month or ran the talk show circuit or covered more magazines is beyond this writer. She’s improved her English immensely over the past few years and has compiled a highlight reel that is absolutely astounding. But what is her story? The UFC doesn’t know and that doesn’t give fans a reason to care. Heading into her fight with the woman recognized as the most dominating force in mixed martial arts history in Cris Cyborg, the UFC seemed to understand what they had, but didn’t know what to do with it. Her 51-second dismantling of Cyborg should have been met with more fanfare than it had. But that’s because the UFC failed in creating an atmosphere where Nunes was known outside of the niche world of MMA. For those like Rovell who suggest that she isn’t marketable, they need to understand that everyone has a story that connects with an audience. And that story isn’t being a blonde-haired all-American who can fight. That’s just lazy and waiting for a superstar — like Conor McGregor — to fall into your lap.Digging beyond the surface is what is necessary to push Nunes beyond the boundaries of MMA. It may take a little creativity, but if she’s set up to succeed, the work she’s put in as a mixed martial artist will speak for itself and build her growing legend. Perhaps the UFC should diversify their reach as a promotional outfit and go beyond the usual run of media outlets for their fighters. Amanda Nunes put the exclamation mark on her claims to the greatest female mixed martial artist of all-time this weekend when she knocked out Holly Holm at UFC 239. The victory put the 31-year-old two-division champion in rare air as she has stopped every woman who has touched a world title in the bantamweight and featherweight divisions (Ronda Rousey, Cris Cyborg, Miesha Tate and Holm). Perhaps more importantly, she’s definitively polished off two of the women who sat at the top of the world as the most dangerous fighters (Cyborg and Rousey) with both knockout stoppages coming in less than a minute. However, Nunes remains a virtual unknown outside of MMA circles despite her remarkable resume and the fact that she can lay claim to being the greatest mixed martial artist of all-time, male or female. And now the UFC is being taken to task for how they have managed to underpromote such a dominant force. Strangely enough, as much as UFC president Dana White may be to blame for this, he’s also quick to be protective when outside forces challenge Nunes’ star power.