St-Pierre vs. Shields a tough sell
Georges St-Pierre and Jake Shields will fight at UFC 129 in Toronto on April 29
St-Pierre is so well-known and Shields isn't charismatic -- not ideal for promotion
Ticket sales in Toronto are no problem; pay-per-view buys may be different story
The idea behind hefty promotional efforts like UFC Primetime on Spike TV is simple: take fans behind the scenes and inside the camps of the two main event fighters in the weeks leading up to their bout, thus making viewers all the more likely to buy the pay-per-view once the event finally rolls around.
At least, that's how it works when it's done well.
That's how it worked when Georges St-Pierre fought B.J. Penn, and the production values on Primetime were as high as the interpersonal drama was compelling.
This time around, with St-Pierre preparing to take on Jake Shields at UFC 129 on April 30, the powers that be seem to have skimped on the former at the expense of the latter.
Not that it's all Spike TV's or the UFC's fault, mind you. St-Pierre-Shields is a tough fight to sell via the traditional routes for a couple of reasons.
For starters, St-Pierre has already gotten the Primetime treatment twice before, so there's not much new ground left to cover. The oddly meaningful pre-fight dinner with his parents? Seen it. His rags-to-riches story of starting out a garbage man and ending up a world champion? Heard it. The scenes of him walking the streets of Montreal in all his slow-motion glory, set to surprisingly awesome French-Canadian rap music? Been there, done that -- several times, as a matter of fact.
The fact is, GSP has been in the limelight for so long that it's hard to find anything new to say about him even if you're following him around with a camera 24 hours a day.
As for the challenger, Shields isn't exactly Mr. Charisma to begin with, and that's true even when he's not spending the better part of every day in the gym. Particularly while he's in training for a title fight, any MMA fighter's life becomes a predictable slog through the same grueling routine day after day, and Shields is no exception.
That might explain why the first episode of the St-Pierre-Shields Primetime was comprised almost entirely of training footage, with a few filler scenes from the latest Strikeforce event thrown in because, hey, now that Zuffa owns that promotion, why not?
The net result was a hype piece that felt like little more than a longer version of the same two-minute promos we see before every event. It's as if the producers decided to forego trying for interesting angles and instead opted to just show up at the gym, turn the cameras on and hope for the best.
Both fighters train hard, which is to be expected. Both men admire and respect each other, and there's only so many ways they can say that in between what looks like stock training footage.
By the time the half-hour show was over, we learned nothing new about either man. It's hard to see how anyone not already intent on watching this fight would be compelled to make time in their schedule or space in their cable bill after such a paint-by-numbers promo effort.
Again, that's not entirely the fault of the show's producers. As great as both GSP and Shields are in the cage, neither is terribly electric in a pre-fight interview. They say the right things, keeping it all blandly respectful, and in the end we come away feeling like we've gained no knowledge whatsoever about who they are as people once the rashguards and headgear come off.
For a fight promoter trying to convey just how big this fight is -- and, to be fair, it is St-Pierre's toughest test in years -- that's a problem. Having the fight in Toronto guaranteed that ticket sales wouldn't be an issue, what with Canada's dual passion for MMA and all things GSP. But if the UFC can't find a way to squeeze a little more out of the Primetime series, pay-per-view buys could be another story.
It just goes to show that in the fight game, it's nice to have great talents on your roster. But when it comes to making money, it helps to have some compelling personalities, as well as the means to show them off.