For anyone that has seen the circus, or heard of the circus, certain visuals come to mind, whether it’s a bearded lady, someone walking a tight rope, or having elephants leap through hoops. At the circus, there is something for everyone. The circus in some ways is much like wrestling and those involved in it. It has recently been reported that WWE’s revenue for the past year is down substantially from the year before. With a decline of such a substantial amount, they are left to seek alternative means to generate attention. While it may be that revenue is down because of past models of advertising being insufficient, there are other ways to seek attention, but still, they have returned to old means to draw attention to the company.
Over 34 years ago, WWE first crossed over to the mainstream and got attention for the company by bringing in notable names from sports and entertainment, such as the late New York Yankees manager Billy Martin, the greatest of all time Muhammed Ali, and musicians Liberace and Cyndi Lauper as well. For WWE, anything that gets them mainstream media attention presents interesting scenarios for them and their sport. For this unique form of sports entertainment, it has become evident that capitalizing on things not necessarily wrestling related can be fruitful.
It was reported a few weeks ago that Triple H invited both Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor, who have an upcoming super fight that will likely earn both men nine figures, to come on WWE television. This would present a tremendous opportunity for exposure for WWE. While it is without question a global entity, linking to different sports for notoriety shows WWE has their finger on the pulse of what is current, topical and relevant. This goes beyond the company sending out championship belts to various teams that have won championships in their respective sports. What reaching out to the McGregor and Mayweather camps did was shows that WWE realizes this could be a huge opportunity for them, and one they wanted to capitalize on.
The invitation sent out by Triple H was one way to reach out to other markets, but it wasn’t the only one. Fans will recall that the rather brash Ball family were invited to appear on an episode of Raw, which they did. The Los Angeles Lakers number one pick Lonzo Ball, along with his outspoken father LaVar and younger brother LaMelo appeared on a Miz TV segment, which was as much an opportunity for the Ball family to gain additional exposure and promote LaVar’s Big Baller Brand of attire as it was WWE taping into the NBA audience and showing them that they too can connect with that audience.
WWE has also seen not only their men but their women also involved in cross promotional opportunities, which the company highlights on their website and social media platforms. Female MMA fighter Cris Cyborg and Becky Lynch have been making overtures towards one another via social media for a number of weeks, each suggesting they want to fight the other. This online discussion became a focus of discussion on the WWE Network program ‘Bring it to the Table.’ Whether it happens or not isn’t necessarily important. What it does do is plant seeds of the possibility, and get people talking. It is similar to Ronda Rousey’s appearance at Wrestlemania, and the taped altercation between the WWE’s Four Horsewoman and MMA’s Four Horsewoman during the May Young Classic, which has not aired yet. WWE is clearly reaching out to other combat sports, as well as other major professional sports, creating opportunities to promote themselves while letting the other party promote their upcoming events.
We have seen scenarios in the past where there have been ‘altercations’ between WWE performers and athletes in sports. Some may recall Wayne Rooney and Wade Barrett had a ringside confrontation with one another a few years ago. While there is some legitimacy brought to WWE by crossing over with mainstream sports, but this sort of involvement with WWE seems to appeal to athletes from other professional sports. Their appeal to WWE is tied to their overall enjoyment of wrestling.
From time to time over the past year or so, New England Patriot’s Tight End Rob Gronkowski has been on the screen supporting Mojo Rawley, as evidenced by his involvement in this year’s Andre the Giant Memorial battle royal. There has often been speculation that Gronkowski’s involvement isn’t a one off, but something he may pursue once his playing career comes to an end. His size, intensity, and stature, along with his ties to the NFL, are another opportunity for WWE to capitalize on the fame of athletes from different sports to help their product, and get exposure to fans of other sports. His involvement generated a huge response from the crowd, something WWE officials had to be aware of. It also generated a response from mainstream sports media, which WWE always seeks, even if it may be ever so slight. While there hasn’t been much if any mention of Gronkowski’s appearance since Wrestlemania, having him as part of future events wouldn’t be unlike the match between Bam Bam Bigelow and former New York Giant Lawrence Taylor. Whether the match was considered a success or is not irrelevant; it was more about putting people in seats and having them witness history. Still, that doesn’t mean it was a well WWE was going to dip into too often.
Over the past couple of months, word had begun to swirl that once Summerslam had come and gone, it would be the end of Brock Lesnar’s time with the WWE. At 40 years of age, he is still a supreme athlete that is as big a draw and a spectacle as anything wrestling presents today. A possible departure from WWE became further muddled when, at the end of UFC 214, when UFC light heavyweight champion Jon ‘Bones’ Jones captured the title and issued a challenge. The challenge was to none other than the current WWE Universal Champion, Lesnar. Needless to say, the mere mention of an athlete from a different sport on a UFC pay per view seemed peculiar. Could there have been some form of agreement between WWE and UFC? Or was that simply something that was unscripted, and UFC had no idea it was going happen? Whatever the reason, it not only got the buzz from the internet wrestling community, media outlets everywhere also picked up on this challenge. Unfortunately, with Jones’ recent failed drug testing it suggest those plans with Lesnar are off the table, unless someone else is slated to challenge the WWE Universal champion.
It should be noted that Lesnar is currently in the midst of a year long suspension after testing positive for a performance enhancing substance following his last UFC match. The time left to serve varies depending on who you read, and some think Lesnar’s return to mixed martial arts is imminent, while others think this will lead to a match in a WWE ring. While some would argue that no such agreement could be in place, and is something UFC President Dana White would not approve, there could be a lot in it for WWE and UFC. If generating revenue is the name of the game, both entities have to see that, since both of their commodities have taken a dip, having a match featuring their respective promotions’ biggest stars could have an immense return for both of them.
This match isn’t unlike the 1976 meeting of Muhammed Ali and Antonio Inoki. However, it certainly would have to have some form of pay off for all involved. Would a loss by Lensar hurt his value in the future? Would a loss by Jones affect the UFC’s claim of being a legitimate combat sport, unlike WWE? We can’t be sure, but that is something that officials from both sides had to have discussed. And keep in mind, WWE and UFC have a similar demographic and similar target audience.
When Conor McGregor has engaged in a war of words with WWE talent on social media, he knew it would do two things: garner attention and potentially earn him more money. Dana White, like McGregor, acknowledges that the promotion of an event is all about drawing interest use the fighters’ personalities. The companies likely also realize that working together could provide opportunities to use respected commentators such as Mauro Ranallo, which could show fans that they are watching both Mixed Martial Arts and Sports Entertainment. While it would take work to have each audience understand the other sports’ competitor that doesn’t mean it can’t be done and done successfully. There is a chance for both WWE and UFC to succeed here. If that means having multiple matches in opposing disciplines, then so be it. All we can be assured of is that the circus that is sports entertainment and the promotional circus that is UFC can come together to create one hell of a carnival.
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