MMA cage showing a match in progressYear 2023

The Art of Image Management in MMA: A Fight Outside the Cage

MMA…No, we’re not going to talk about insurance of any kind but “I’ll have it one day” must certainly be the first thing a fighter says when he wakes up from his K.O. In the ruthless arena of MMA (Mixed Martial Arts, also translated into French by Mixed Martial Arts, are known by the acronym MMA for Mixed Martial Arts.), the importance of its image is as crucial as the mastery of combat techniques, that is to say not at all. After all, we’re here to beat each other, not to do a popularity contest. Well, if it can help get a sponsor or two, why not? The reputation of an athlete or organization can be shaped or demolished by a single action, statement or incident…

Image management in this area is not only about public perception, but also how athletes and organisations are perceived by sponsors, partners and even sport regulators. It’s true that it can be important, especially if you want to earn money.

This article, dedicated to the world of MMA, explores the various aspects and importance of image management. Let’s discover together how MMA fighters and organizations can skilfully navigate the sometimes tumultuous waters of image management in sport, or how they can crash miserably.

03 November

13 min

The cage of big heads - Image Management in MMA

The importance of image management in MMA is a subject that goes well beyond the fights visible in the cage. Indeed, we must also think about every word that we will use on social networks. And if you need an example, look at the descriptions under the Instagram post of Karim Benzema (given his bandage in hand it is sure that he distributes potatoes too). Or rather, do not look at them, because they are all as incomprehensible as each other.

MMA is a sport where reputation is constantly put to the test, not only through athletic performances but also through behaviors, affiliations and public statements. For fighters, a positive image can open doors to sponsorship opportunities, a strong fan base and a sustainable career. A negative image, but one that does not exceed the limits of what is acceptable, can also be an effective way to attract the interest of sponsors and other partners. Or how to become rich by selling t-shirts bearing the image of your dog S/O Connor.

For organizations, it can mean increased credibility, successful partnerships and international recognition. By exploring concrete examples, this article will unveil the mechanisms of image management in MMA, but also how to ruin his career in a single statement is not Noël Le Graët?

As Kyky would say, we do not touch Zidane! (editor’s note: the statement of the former president of the FFF Zidane coach of Brazil? “I have nothing to shake” to which Kylian Mbappé replied with a tweet).

Let’s go back to our fighters… This article highlights the vital aspect of image management and how it can be mastered to ensure a successful career and organization. Unless you call yourself KB9 and there it is total freestyle.

Conor Mcgregor shaking hands friendly
©Louis Grasse/PxImages

Image management techniques and strategies for MMA fighters

In the middle of MMA, the image is paramount so it is better not to go out too hurt after his fight. It can be a major asset for fighters and federations. Personal branding is an important notion in MMA. For those who have skipped English classes at college don’t worry we are here to help. It is simply the construction of a personal brand identity. Fighters and leagues use branding to differentiate themselves from the competition and to attract fans.

UFC President Dana White is an example of a successful brand as he is the image of the organization itself. He is known for his outspokenness and sense of humor (ironically). This style has helped make the UFC the largest MMA federation in the world.

The fighters also have their own personal branding. Some fighters choose to present themselves as heroes, while others present themselves as anti-heroes. It’s really a difficult existential choice to make, isn’t it? The important thing is to find a style that is consistent with his personality and that is likely to please the fans. Social networks are an important tool to build your personal brand image. They allow fighters and leagues to connect with fans and share their content. Twitter, X or Y (it will be as you want), is the network where you can say provocative and controversial things to attract attention. Because it is well known, nothing sells better than controversy.

Storytelling is another important strategy in MMA. Nothing sells a fight better than an epic story around it. Just look at the story between Fernand Lopez and Cédric Doumbé for his fight against Jordan Zébo. Leagues use storytelling to create a story around a fight or event. This makes it possible to arouse the interest of the fans and to create an expectation. Before each fight, the leagues seek to create a story behind to attract attention. For example, the UFC created a rivalry between Conor McGregor and Nate Diaz. This rivalry helped make their fight one of the most lucrative in MMA history.

Triomphes et Catastrophes de Gestion d’Image dans le MMA

Conor Mcgregor taking the pose
©website football club de Marseille

Conor Mcgregor

How not to start with Conor McGregor, with his flamboyant personality and shock phrases, he mastered the art of self-promotion, using his image strategically to forge an unparalleled place in the UFC. His pre-fight statements, though often controversial, have become legendary and unforgettable in the sports world. For example, at a press conference before his fight against Floyd Mayweather, McGregor said, “I am an Irish unicorn and I bring color to this grey sport”. And before facing Chad Mendes, he proclaimed, “Chad is a Mexican dwarf. I’m going to slaughter him”. These phrases, and many others, not only caught the attention of the media, but also created an electric anticipation before each fight.

But be careful, do not overdo it, otherwise you end up like him, assaulting an old man in a bar.

The UFC, aware of the financial power and visibility McGregor brings to the organization, has often accommodated the image and demands of the Irish fighter. Numbers speak for themselves: McGregor events, such as UFC 257, drive PPV sales (Pay-Per-View, It is a television or streaming system where viewers can buy events to watch them) astronomical. To put this into perspective, UFC 257 generated 1.5 million PPV purchases, positioning it as the fifth-best-selling event in UFC history. In 2021, McGregor was crowned the highest paid sportsman by Forbes, earning about $180 million that year through his fights and business partnerships, according to Let’s Talk Basketball. Yes, McGregor is a real phenomenon. He made millions of dollars pretending to be an idiot. That’s an example for all of us.

While his demeanor and comments can be controversial at times, the UFC recognizes the priceless value that McGregor, with his bold image and undeniable talent, brings to the organization. His ability to use his image to generate attention not only solidified his own brand, but also significantly propelled the UFC to the world stage. In conclusion, Conor McGregor is a marketing genius. He understands that in MMA, image is more important than skills. And he managed to use his image to become one of the biggest stars of this sport.

Jon Jones
©website Chris Graythen/Getty

Jon Jones

Jon Jones, despite his undeniable talent and spectacular style in the octagon, has a career marred by various scandals and personal problems. His meteoric rise to the UFC, becoming the youngest champion in the organization’s 23-year history, was as fast as his entry into a spiral of controversy. From court cases, including arrests for hit and run, domestic violence, and assault charges, to doping-related problems, Jones has been constantly in the spotlight for the wrong reasons.

However, the UFC always seems ready to open its doors after every incident. Why? Because Jon Jones is a salesman. His fighting style, creativity, and technique in the cage are unmatched. Thibault Gouti, a former training partner, described Jones as having “a real gift for martial arts” and highlighted his imposing stature and ability to cover an incredible distance in one or two strokes as defining elements of his fighting style. Yes, it’s true, Jones is a good fighter. But he’s also a bad example. It is proof that in the world of MMA, image is more important than skills. Or rather, that the image of a bad boy is more important than skills. It’s not as simple in football a little hello to Team Cantona, Balotelli and so on.

But beyond his talent, Jones’ controversies also seem to attract undeniable attention. Every return of “Bones” Jones to the cage after a scandal is eagerly awaited by fans and critics alike, generating significant revenue and visibility for the UFC. Although his actions outside the cage have often been condemned, the UFC seems to recognize the financial value of keeping Jones in its ranks, allowing the fighter to make his return, again and again, despite the waves of controversy that follow him. This raises an interesting ethical question: how far is an organization willing to go to guarantee sales figures and media attention? For the UFC and Jon Jones, the answer seems to be a perpetual cycle of drops, revenues, but above all new controversies.

Cédric Doumbé
©website La sueur

Cédric Doumbé

The brilliant victory of Cédric Doumbé in just 9 seconds, yes, not even the time to cook an egg, on Jordan Zébo during the PFL's “main event” at the Zénith de Paris is not only the result of his exceptional skill in the octagon, but also the fruit of his sharp insight into personal marketing and image management. Doumbé has brilliantly recognized and harnessed the power of a strong image and pervasive media presence in combat sport, drawing inspiration from figures like Conor McGregor to build and maintain a personal brand that attracts and holds attention.

His slogan for the fight, “Jordan your’re dead”, and his trash-talk campaign were not merely acts of provocation, but calculated moves to ensure that all eyes were on him when he entered the arena. Because, let’s be honest, who wouldn’t want to see a man predict the future so accurately? He understood that in the saturated world of MMA, where many talented fighters are fighting for a place in the spotlight, creating a powerful and memorable image is crucial to stand out and attract the attention not only of the fans, but also sponsors and media.

Doumbé not only sold tickets but sold himself as a brand, an entity, and an experience, proving that in modern sport, especially in areas as competitive as MMA, Skillful image and personal brand management is just as important as athletic talent to ensure success and longevity in the field. This is a lesson that all emerging athletes can learn from Doumbé: that mastering the art of selling oneself is intrinsically linked to the ability to sell seats and build a successful career.

The image and personal brand of MMA fighters such as Conor McGregor, Jon Jones and Cédric Doumbé play a crucial role in attracting media and public attention, significantly influencing organizations such as the UFC and PFL.

These fighters, through their talent in the octagon and their ability to market themselves, especially via trash-talk and social media, generate significant revenue and increased visibility for themselves and the organizations they represent. The strategic management of their image and “personal branding” has become essential to maximize their influence and power in the competitive MMA industry. Because, after all, if you can’t beat your opponents with your fists, do it with your Instagram, right? The following will explore how this image impacts sponsorship and financial opportunities in the field.

Sponsorship and Monetization - The impact of image on financial opportunities

The meteoric rise of the UFC from an organization on the verge of bankruptcy to an entity generating $1.3 billion in revenue in 2022 illustrates the monumental impact of image and marketing in the MMA world. (Who said kicking and punching wasn’t profitable?) The UFC, once seen as a league promoting a sport too violent and barbaric for the general public, capitalized on the global explosion of mixed martial arts, transforming its reputation and establishing MMA as a legitimate and marketable sport. The fighters, aware of this metamorphosis, seized the opportunity to maximize their image for financial and promotional purposes.

Cédric Doumbé, for example, brilliantly used trash-talk and personal marketing strategies, inspired by figures like Conor McGregor, to sell his fight against Jordan Zebo at the PFL, attracting an audience of 1.4 million on RMC Discovery, in addition to the 234,000 subscribers on RMC Sport 2. (Not bad?For a guy who spent less time in the ring than most of us in the shower,) The fight, although lasting only nine seconds, not only propelled Doumbé into the spotlight but also generated significant media attention, demonstrating that the image of a fighter, when skillfully managed and marketed, can open doors to huge sponsorship and monetization opportunities. This highlights the crucial importance for the fighters not only to hone their skills in the octagon but also to master the art of personal branding and marketing in the public and media arena, to maximize their potential for income and influence in sport.

In short, the impact of the image in the world of sport, particularly in disciplines such as MMA, is undeniably colossal, influencing not only public perception but also financial and sponsorship opportunities for athletes and organizations. Iconic figures like Conor McGregor, Jon Jones, and Cédric Doumbé have demonstrated that skillful mastery of personal branding and marketing can propel a career, attract a massive audience, and generate substantial revenue, both for individuals and for sports organisations. It is with this in mind that at KT Sport Design, we are committed to helping athletes navigate the complex landscape of image management. We offer tailor-made services, ranging from the creation of a strong and consistent brand image to the strategic management of public relations and media, ensuring that each athlete not only shines in their discipline, but also in the public arena, attracting success, partnerships, and lucrative opportunities. The symbiosis between sport and image is inseparable in the contemporary era, and at KT Sport Design, we are here to ensure that this alliance is as effective and vibrant as possible.

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