The annual Zuffa, LLC. fighter summit wrapped up this week in Las Vegas , with some very significant and some also very trivial business having been handled in a style befitting the company itself – meaning that almost every bit of it was transmitted to fans in more or less real time on the Internet.
The UFC’s fighter summits are typically used to educate and update any and all of its contracted fighters who care to attend on a bevy of different subjects, such as the best ways to handle their money, how to deal with the media and how to bring themselves up to date with the promotion’s latest marketing and PR strategies. But this year’s meeting was different in at least one enormous respect: It was the first since Zuffa’s acquisition of Strikeforce, so there was a whole new crop of fighters (not to mention a whole extra day) added to the agenda.
It also made for some kind of awkward moments, like longtime rivals Josh Barnett and Dana White posing for a grip-and-grin pic, which Barnett later distributed on his Facebook page with the subject line: “Pigs Fly.” There was also former Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Gegard Mousasi doodling his way through some of the informational seminars and Japanese great Takanori Gomi catching up on his sleep every time the subject at hand didn’t catch interest.
But some big things got done too. First and foremost, the UFC announced that next month it will begin offering a health insurance plan to all its fighters that will cover (among other things) injuries suffered during training. This piece of policy can only be considered groundbreaking, and should bring to an end the days where horror stories of injured guys accepting fights just to pay for much needed medical treatments percolated beneath the surface.
News of the new insurance policies was met with near unilateral approval from fighters (obviously) and also from the media. Still, some fans are already worrying that it could usher in an era where fighters drop out of fights willy-nilly and pay-per-view cards are nearly impossible to keep together. The fires of this conspiracy-minded talk were stoked when just a day after the insurance policies were announced both Gray Maynard and Frankie Edgar withdrew from their scheduled fight at UFC 130, citing injuries. Of course, this line of thinking is wrongheaded and selfish. Anything that makes the dangerous and difficult jobs of fighters a little easier and/or safer should be applauded. To say anything else is near blasphemy.
In slightly less groundbreaking but perhaps equally affecting news, the UFC also announced that it will take its already aggressive social media marketing efforts a step further as it begins to offer monetary bonuses for fighters using Twitter. Simply put, the company will reward fighters who add the most Twitter followers (both in sheer numbers and percentage-wise) and the fighters who post the “most creative” tweets during each quarter of the next year.
Sound strange? Not for a company that has been on the leading edge of the social media revolution and one that prides itself on outmaneuvering mainstream sports entities when it comes to new technology. The UFC has long made Twitter one of its primary marketing forums and this seems like a logical – if a bit offbeat – next step. It goes without saying that the more followers the company can draw into its extended Twitter web, the better it is for marketing and ultimately for selling products like merchandise and PPVs.
Still, you have to wonder if paying fighters to tweet kind of undercuts one of the only things that makes Twitter seem halfway bearable – the spontaneous and organic interaction. Now that fighters are being paid to use Twitter, fans will have to wonder if they’re really gaining anything by following UFC guys or if they're just being used as marketing guinea pigs.
In any case, the ridiculous crush of UFC-related Twitter messages that closed out this week’s fighter summit was certainly no accident. It also seems like just the tip of the iceberg, for better or for worse.