The UFC’s Use of Storytelling and Personal Branding

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.

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.

Lexicon is a digital marketing agency in Bangkok, Thailand. We use branded storytelling to connect our clients with their ideal audience through social media marketingwebsite designvideo productionbranding, copywriting, and a full range of Bangkok creative agency services as well as our Bangkok translation service. All work is done in-house by our talented internationally-minded team of creative storytellers and every project is created bespoke to suit our clients’ needs.


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