The UFC’s Use of Storytelling and Personal Branding

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In the early days of the UFC, fighters from around the world fought in one place using a variety of martial arts disciplines. From Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, to Judo, Muay Thai, Karate, freestyle wrestling, Sambo, and more, their wide range of disciplines resulted in a battle between fighting styles to prove who had the best fighters and techniques. This competition evolved into what we now know as MMA – the application of all techniques into one form of combat.

Today, the UFC is a massive brand built on the personas and stories of its fighters. By drawing on the interesting upbringings of each fighter, the league creates a narrative that people around the world can easily relate to. From underdog stories, to family expertise passed down between generations, to tales about rising from poverty, this form of storytelling has become central to the UFC’s marketing strategy.

Our social media agency in Bangkok, Thailand noticed some interesting marketing strategies used by the UFC to raise interest in their fighters and organization.

Using Storytelling to Appeal to a Wide Audience

Each fighter is marketed using their story, nationality, and upbringing, usually highlighting the challenges they faced and how martial arts helped them overcome the rough periods in their lives. Two superstars that brought immense popularity and attention to the UFC using this form of storytelling are Conor McGregor and Khabib Nurmagomedov.

The UFC very deliberately emphasized Conor’s background as a former apprentice plumber from Crumlin, Ireland, who was previously on welfare before he chose to pursue his ambitions in cage fighting. One man who helped guide him was John Kavanagh, the head coach of SBG Ireland. Kavanagh took on a delinquent 18-year-old McGregor and helped him become a two-weight champion of London UK’s Cage Warriors fighting, as well as a two-weight champion in the UFC.

The same storytelling approach was used in the case of Khabib Nurmagomedov, a Russian fighter trained by his father in the harsh mountains of Dagestan. Khabib’s humble background was also emphasized, with a special focus on his impoverished upbringing in a small village. Audiences were shown how hard he had worked before achieving stardom in the UFC as an undefeated lightweight champion.

Using Personal Branding to Build a Loyal Following

These two former champions of the UFC had their personal branding set up at the beginning of their UFC careers. As they won against their opponents, their stories were repeated, and their names were always used to headline events, interviews, and company promo events. This strategy launched them into stardom around the globe, drawing the interest of sponsors while also raising the value of the UFC as a fighting league.

The key event which turned the UFC into the world’s most popular MMA organization was when they turned these two personas against one another, capturing the attention of fans and non-fans around the world. Similar to the rivalry between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, viewers around the world were enthusiastic about the two fighters going head to head. By this time, 34 million people followed Nurmagomedov on social media, with 46 million followers for McGregor.

Strong personal branding earned the two fighters a multitude of sponsors. McGregor even founded his own whiskey brand, Proper 12, of which he would later sell a majority stake for approximately $600 million. While McGregor juggled his time between fighting and business ventures, Khabib retired from matches. He instead turned to coaching and managing his own MMA company, Eagle FC. Despite the two now spending nearly all their time outside the ring, their personal branding is worth billions of dollars, thanks in large part to the UFCs ingenious marketing strategy.

As a result of the hype built around the story of their rivalry, McGregor’s fight against Khabib Nurmagomedov in October 2018 sold a reported 2.4 million PPVs, generating an estimated $130 million in revenue.

Part of what made that fight so compelling was the personal animosity between the two fighters, which McGregor stoked through his storytelling. He insulted Nurmagomedov’s family, religion, and country, and built up the fight as a clash of cultures and worldviews. This created a narrative that resonated with fans and generated intense interest in the fight.

Another way McGregor uses storytelling is through his persona outside of the ring. McGregor is known for his flamboyant style and brash personality, and he uses this to create a larger-than-life character that fans can’t help but be drawn to. He’s also a master of self-promotion, regularly posting on social media and giving interviews that keep him in the public eye and build up hype for his fights.

In conclusion, Conor McGregor uses storytelling to great effect in his career. Whether it’s building up the drama of his fights or crafting a compelling persona outside of the ring, McGregor knows how to create narratives that resonate with fans and generate interest in his fights. It’s a big reason why he’s one of the most successful fighters in combat sports history, and it’s a skill that will continue to serve him well as he looks to further grow his career.


Fight with Creativity and Storytelling

By promoting its professionals as leaders in their respective fields, and taking the time to tell their stories, the UFC have had great success in capturing the attention of audiences worldwide. The organization has been rewarded with billions of dollars worth of revenue and a loyal fanbase, while also cementing its position as the UFC as the #1 fighting organization in the world.

While you probably don’t want to be roundhouse kicking your competitors in the face, you can certainly use storytelling as a potent weapon in your arsenal. If you need a podcast studio in Bangkok or some support with your personal branding, you know who to call.

About the Author

Piyanat Jantharot is a Senior Brand Strategist at Lexicon working working with leading brands to develop impactful stories on a daily basis. His team manages executive brands for busy CEOs, runs B2B marketing campaigns and develops social media marketing strategies.

Lexicon is an award-winning brand storytelling agency focusing on telling impactful stories for clients based in Thailand and South East Asia. Lexicon has been around for almost a decade and has told thousands of stories just like yours.


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