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Steve Cofield: Are people angry about UFC 121 marketing just so they can manufacture anger?

By Zach Arnold | October 21, 2010

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Steve Cofield and Kevin Iole over at Cagewriter have a discussion about the “first Mexican heavyweight champion” marketing push that UFC is using for this Saturday’s event at the Honda Center (Anaheim Pond) for the Cain Velasquez/Brock Lesnar fight. We wrote an article about this topic two days ago and basically our argument for why there’s some fan frustration about the way Cain Velasquez has been marketed and presented is because of the following:

  1. There’s marketing someone based on their nationality or ethnicity. They’re two separate qualities. It’s when the two get conflated that starts causing backlash. (e.g. You can have Irish heritage and celebrate it, but you’re still an American and represent America.)
  2. Fans want to watch a fight between two fighters who they think are talented, have great talent, and a title match where the challenger is perceived to have a real shot because of what skills they possess.

When you read the transcript, you’ll notice Steve talk about the issue of illegal immigration and how he thinks the current landscape of American culture plays into whatever backlash there may be against the UFC’s marketing.

Onto the transcript.

STEVE COFIELD: “You know, I will say, though, a little frustrated. I’ve been reading this for, um…”

KEVIN IOLE: “Frustrated?”

STEVE COFIELD: “Yeah, I know. I’ve been reading the theme for about a month now, you’ve covered boxing a long time, I’ve covered boxing for a little less time. I’m not as old as you… (joking interplay) But we’ve seen the nationalistic angle in boxing and every so often it crosses the line, you know Mayweathwer with his stupid thing, his USTREAM thing a little while ago but generally it’s harmless, it’s always been a selling point and yet the UFC’s trying it, Kevin, and I keep seeing stories over and over and over again about Cain Velasquez and this, you know, ‘Mexican heavyweight’ angle and for some reason, people are irked.”

KEVIN IOLE: “I don’t get it. I mean, you know, I don’t care either way but it makes sense, Steve, to accentuate that because Mexico is such a huge market but it’s really a boxing market right now and it’s a market that MMA could mine successfully and really expand and become a very large market, you know Dana (White) talks about Canada being the mecca of MMA. You know, I think that’ll change and go very far south if they can, you know, make some inroads into Mexico and certainly Cain Velasquez is a way they can do that. So, basically it’s just marketing and expand the sport and I don’t see the objection to it. It’s not like they’re talking about, you know, race from a standpoint of, oh, this fighter can do something because he’s of this race. They’re just talking about, hey, you know, they’re appealing to the nationalistic pride of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans to get them to watch the fight and that makes sense, you know, you’re trying to get as many people to watch your fights as possible, especially your big fights because if you get those people to watch your good cards and 121 figures to be a good card, you know you never know how they’re going to turn out on paper, it’s look like a good card. If you get people watching that, Steve, you turn them into fans! And if you turn them into fans, it’s growing the sport. It’s good for everybody. So, I don’t see the objection to it.”

STEVE COFIELD: “Well, frankly because right now most of the US UFC fan base isn’t nationalistic doesn’t mean that other countries and other nationalities aren’t nationalistic.”

KEVIN IOLE: “In other countries they really feel a sense of pride that, you know, Georges St. Pierre is representing Canada or you know whoever the fighter may be is representing Mexico, you know, I’ve been to many boxing matches where you hear the “Me-hi-co” in the background because the people are rooting the person representing their country. I think that’s a good thing, I don’t think it’s a bad thing. Look at the ovation that Bisping got, that Dan Hardy got, that John Hathaway got. All the Brits on 120, you know, they were treated like kings and if they were fighting here it would either have been in Bisping’s case boos or, you know, and Hardy and Hathaway’s case just you know a far less reaction. You know, so I just think it’s part of it. That’s why, you know, in all these other countries when the UFC goes there, we went to Germany and you saw Peter Sobotta, who was on the card, and Dennis Siver was on the card because they’re from Germany and the crowd really connected with them. So, I don’t get it. It’s a natural evolution of sport and it’s the way people in a lot of countries they root for the person that, you know, the hometown boy…”

STEVE COFIELD: “I also think part of it is is the current culture right now politically in the United States with relations with Mexico and immigrants because I do think if the UFC, they’re already doing it, if they a title bout coming up and it’s hey, the first Chinese-born you know Taiwanese-born champion could arrive or you’re opening the door to Japan, you mention Germany, that’s the way it is to initially you know… the UK’s a little different now because they’re established there so Dana White is right, they don’t have to have an elite British fighter on every card to do well. They’re selling there. But a lot of these other countries, they will probably try to push for an Indian fighter down the road when they open up India as well.”

KEVIN IOLE: “Well, they’re already doing it with a Chinese fighter and that, you know, in the WEC. Now, here’s the thing, Steve, think about it… Brock Lesnar can’t really promote that card in Mexico. They want to sell the card to Mexicans, Brock doesn’t speak Spanish, you know they can’t bring Brock down there and have the same impact that they can bring by moving Brock around the country and having people interview him and having him talk because, you know, people who speak English he can connect with. He can’t, you know, connect with non-English speakers so that’s where Cain was very, you know, he’s bilingual, he’s able to answer questions. I was on the conference call the other day with Cain and Brock and Cain got a number of questions in Spanish and he answered them. That’s why Oscar was so popular, Oscar De La Hoya, because he was bilingual and he was able to communicate with a huge Mexican-American audience and Hispanic audience, not just the Mexicans but all the Spanish-speaking people that were watching boxing that are living in the US and he enabled them to enjoy the same thing as the English-speakers were. So, you know, I just think it’s one of those things that, you know, that’s a big part of it, you know, that they want to, when you go into a new market you know and I’m not familiar too much with the Chinese media but I’m sure when they do put a show in Beijing and I think that’s going to happen sooner rather than later, when they do to Beijing whatever media is in China comes out is going to want to be able to talk to somebody in their native language to convey the story and that, you know, translators can only go so far.”

STEVE COFIELD: “Let me get your reaction to this statement. I was reading one blog and they were asking, does all the Brown Pride talk and first Mexican heavyweight champion marketing turn off white fans or is it a matter where white fans largely don’t care one way or the other?

KEVIN IOLE: “Umm…. you know, I guess there’s two ways to answer that. You know, the Mexican heavyweight champion, first Mexican heavyweight champion, I have no problem with that at all using that because that is FACT. That is fact. If Cain wins, he would become the first Mexican native, well he’s not actually born in Mexico but of Mexican heritage, heavyweight champion, you know, there hasn’t been one in boxing. John Ruiz is Latino but he’s from Puerto Rico in boxing but there’s never been one in boxing that was a Mexican and there’s never been one in MMA. So that is a fact. No problem with pointing out a fac, so I don’t have an issue with that. The Brown Pride thing I think is a little different. I’ve asked Cain about it, you know, Brown Pride for people who don’t know is stenciled in tattoo across his chest, you know he’s just proud of heritage. I’m Irish-Italian, I don’t have Irish-Italian tattooed on me anywhere and I don’t see the point of that but I don’t begrudge for him being proud of his ethnicity and his background. I think it’s misinterpreted by some people and so I think that’s a little more questionable and we can debate that, you know sociologists or whoever may want to make comments about that, that one’s a little different than just the first Mexican Heavyweight champion.”

STEVE COFIELD: “To build on that point, though, I also think it’s a generational thing in terms of how many generations, different people have been in the United States. If this were 1920, I don’t know if you watched Boardwalk Empire, I don’t think it would be that shocking if someone had an Italian or an Irish, you know, some mark of pride on their body with a tattoo if tattoos were big back then, obviously Mexicans have been you know in the United States maybe a little less time than Irish and Italians so I think sometimes, like I said there’s an atmosphere right now where people are looking to be, get themselves angry over different things and you know you’ll see headlines like they’re playing the race card. The race card is a little different than promoting a guy as a Mexican or a Mexican-American.”

KEVIN IOLE: “100%. You know, I just… it is not racist to say, hey, he’s bilingual, he speaks Spanish, you know he is, his parents were born in Mexico, you know he’s a first-generation American that comes from these roots and the fight fans in Mexico can identify with. No, I don’t think there’s anything racist about that at all. You know, if they went out and they tried to play on some Mexican or Hispanic stereotypes, you know in the way they’re marketing the fight, that would be totally different. I would be outraged by that. But by just saying, hey, he may become the first Mexican Heavyweight champion, I mean c’mon, get over it. There’s nothing wrong with that.”

STEVE COFIELD: “On the flip side, do you think that Brock, watching the Countdown show that debuted last night, he made a comment about a Corona and a burrito. Do you think he will able to be hold his tongue and SHOULD HE have to hold his tongue? Frankly I think he, you know, as long as it’s not hurtful or nasty…”

KEVIN IOLE: “Yeah, when Mayweather wore the sombrero, that was kind of fun because you know it was like Mayweather loves Mexico, he was paying you know there was a perception that he was hated down there, the Margarito situation and everything and I think, you know, to make again to go with if we were talking about an African-American people would be outraged and rightly so if we talked about, you know, fried chicken and watermelon, right? That would be an outrageous comment and it wouldn’t be acceptable and so it shouldn’t be acceptable to make those kind of comments about any nationality. Now if you want to have fun, you know, fun with it, you know I don’t have a problem with it but I think there’s a fine line that needs to be walked.”

Topics: Media, MMA, UFC, Zach Arnold | 18 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

18 Responses to “Steve Cofield: Are people angry about UFC 121 marketing just so they can manufacture anger?”

  1. Fluyid says:

    Of course stuff gets manufactured to talk about. This is the internet. It’s what we do here on the internet and, separately, in the press.

    On a different note, will this be the end of Leben in the UFC (if the report is true)? LINK: http://tinyurl.com/2a4em8t

  2. “Steve Cofield: Are people angry about UFC 121 marketing just so they can manufacture anger?”

    …yes.

    • A. Taveras says:

      Bingo.

      Not sure what the issue is here at all. To me there is a clear line between pride in identity & heritage and the discriminatory, prejudicial -isms of the world. I don’t see where UFC, Cain or Brock have crossed it in marketing of this PPV.

      I’m also confused by Zach’s references to an erroneous conflation of ethnicity and nationalism. Who is in error, fans or Cain? I’m not sure when it comes to Mexican-American identity that you can neatly draw a line here. In the case of Mexicans in the US they may tend to identify as one ethnicity based on nation of origin, despite the fact that within Mexico they might identify with regional, racial or tribal identities instead of buying into the national identity. Can’t fault Cain, who grew up in the US, if he identifies with national Mexican identity over the regional or racial background of his parents as he is likely too detached from that reality to break it down that far. To him Mexican ethnicity is inextricably tied to the Mexican nation-state his parents hailed from, and means waving that national flag alongside the flag of the nation-state he himself was born and raised in. If this flag-waving is what turns ppl off not sure what to say other than it is unfair to presume Cain is abdicating or insulting his own nation just because he is proud of his parent’s story.

      • Zach Arnold says:

        Tito Ortiz used to bring both the Mexican and American flags to the cage during intros and it wasn’t something that got him booed (at least to my recollection). Miguel Torres isn’t afraid to celebrate his background and he gets cheered by the fans.

        So, ‘waving the flag’ isn’t what’s caused the frustration here.

        • A. Taveras says:

          So are you saying Cain will be boo-ed? And if no one had/has an issue with regards to Tito or Miguel then I’m at a complete loss as to what the frustrating issue might be for fans around Cain.

        • Zach Arnold says:

          I didn’t say he will get booed. What I am saying is that the way UFC has pushed him has been unfair to a degree but he’s ‘a willing participant’ and has gone all-in with it.

          It’s a whitewash of the company’s past history and their attempts at trying to make inroads into the market they want to get. It comes across as desperate for UFC and takes away from the fact that this guy (Cain) can really fight and is as competitive of a challenger for Brock as you can find.

          It’s probably an overgeneralization to state this, but for most sports fans it’s OK if you are into celebrating either your nationality or your ethnicity/origins. However, when you try to combine both, people get irritated. Marcus Davis is a classic example. How many people scream about him because he’s “a fake Irishman?” Fans have no trouble calling out that deal nor should they.

          I’m not saying that I don’t understand why UFC has marketed Cain the way they have. What I am saying is that it comes across as almost artificial or forced, that here you have a guy with real credentials and the one takeaway they want people to have of him doesn’t have anything to do with his talents. It’s basically identity politics, which is one of those things where when it works it can pay off but if it turns off people it can get nasty.

  3. Todd says:

    First of all consider the source– Dana White could kill a man at a UFC press conference and these two ass clowns would find a way to justify it.

    This is just more of the same UFC drivel you always hear. Nothing they do is wrong. If you don’t like it a) you’re not a real fight fan b) you should go watch boxing and c) both of the above. Same mentality as Dana getting mad at ESPN for having the nerve to report on their event like any other sport and not coordinating it to best serve Zuffa. Same mentality as that inane tweet he sent that basically said that fans don’t have a right to complain about the last UFC b/c it was free.

    If people have a problem with something that the UFC does its not because they just want something to ‘be angry’ about. The UFC forgets that these people are their **customers** and that its good business to keep them happy. In any other business, customers with constructive criticism are an important source of input. The UFC, on the other hand, insults them on Twitter and has their flunkies in the media like Iole and Cofield blame someone else–anyone but the UFC.

    I don’t watch half as much MMA as I did a year ago and I know a lot of other people who don’t either. I just got tired of the UFC shoving a substandard product down our throats and not learning from their mistakes. I got tired of spending my money with a company that acts like they’re doing *me* a favor by allowing me to be a customer. Most significantly, I got tired of listening to Dana White’s endless f bomb laden insults directed at fans that just want the product to be better.

    • Smithers says:

      “I don’t watch half as much MMA as I did a year ago and I know a lot of other people who don’t either. I just got tired of the UFC shoving a substandard product down our throats and not learning from their mistakes.”

      They’re going to do record business again this year with or without you, so your “lot of other people” can’t really be all that many.

  4. mr. roadblock says:

    There’s two things at play here.

    1. UFC would love to get the Mexican boxing crowd to start watching it. Any PPV with top Mexican talent gets 300-400,000 Pay Per Views.

    2. It’s a real soft and polite version of the way WWF marketed Hulk Hogan in the 80’s. They’re not really saying tune in to see a guy whose parents were born in Mexico become champ. They’re really saying watch American-made Brock Lesnar pound the snot out of this guy with a Mexican gang tattoo on his chest.

    • The Gaijin says:

      Haha re. 2…interesting thought. But I hardly think they’ve thought it through that hard that they’re trying to do a subversively veiled Real American hero vs. “evil foreign menace”.

      Maybe it will motive Tea Baggers to tune in to see the “evil Mexican” vanquished by the “hardworking American farmboy” and they’ll prove their true marketing genius…LOL.

  5. Paradoxx says:

    I think the focus on race is sad for any sport.

    When the USA! USA! USA! chants start up, I will be embarrassed for this sport.

    When you shove us vs them down our throats, it creates the wrong atmosphere.

  6. Dave says:

    I literally do not care. UFC is in full overkill mode at this point. My laptop has been dead for about two weeks now so I’ve been limited to my intake of stuff (and what I can write), and honestly, I don’t think I’m missing much.

    There is a Brock Lesnar fight this weekend and I forgot about it, as did many others I know. You know why? Because there was an event last weekend people forgot about and are now finally talking about.

    I love MMA to death but UFC is really grating on my nerves.

  7. edub says:

    What a surprise, a contender for FOTY is going on right now, and (probably) less than 50,000 people are seeing it.

    So shitty.

    • The Gaijin says:

      Total clowning by Eddie!

      I said in a previous thread and I’ve said many times before – if he could finish Roger he’d be worthy of the hype and in my mind in the mix as a top 5 lw. He really just ran a clinic on a guy that no one could finish in the big leagues. In fact after tonight I think he could take anyone in the top 5, based on recent performances. He’d take Diego and Florian and no way Frankie E can out-run him standing up. Maynard or BJ would obviously be the guys to give him the most trouble…or a Frankie who wanted to scramble and hold him down.

      In closing…Eddie A is for real.

  8. EJ says:

    Beating Huerta at this point doesn’t mean much of anything, he already got exposed by Florian in the UFC. Not to mention he lost his last fight to Lil’ Frog Curran, Eddie still has alot to prove nothing has changed were he stands at LW today than yesterday.

    • The Gaijin says:

      Pfff…typical EJ. More of the moving the goalpost arguments. Oh he beat someone that gives an indication of where he stands in the rankings? Oh, well actually that guy was never good anyways…proves nothing.

      Florian couldn’t finish Huerta…Florian just danced around and out-pointed him.

      Maynard couldn’t finish Huerta. Huerta gave him all he could handle.

      Alvarez demolished him. Such a f##kin’ typical hater. Clearly you’re someone that’s never accomplished anything in any athletic arena. I’m sure you’d rank good ol’ Diego over Alvarez right?

      • EJ says:

        The only people moving goalposts are the people making the ridiculous claim that beating Huerta who’s coming off a loss mean anything at this point.

        Also Florian didn’t just outpoint Huerta he made him look silly and out of his league and while Maynard didn’t finish Huerta he almost took his arm with him in the process of winning a dominant decision.

        You need to stop gettin emotional about things and stick to facts and all the facts point to Alvarez needing to prove more than beating Huerta to be mentioned as a top LW.

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