Saturday night's main event @ UFC 137 turned out to be an entertaining one, which salvaged a somewhat lackluster card. It featured two of the sports most popular fighters in Strikeforce welterweight (170 lbs.) champion Nick Diaz (26-7 13 KO's 6 subs) and former UFC lightweight (155 lbs.) and welterweight champion BJ Penn (16-8-2, 7 KO's 6 subs). Though Diaz would end up winning a close decision; that is secondary to fans of both fighters that could care less about who won or lost.
This is a testament to the popularity of both fighters that has always been at the top level of Mixed Martial Arts. However, the question is why? It definitely has nothing to do with their win-loss records, which aren't necessarily iconic to say the least. Yet, both are iconic figures in a sport that reveres certain fighters and has mutual disdain for certain others. Penn (pictured above), is one that has had it right from the beginning of his career and if Saturday nights crowd support is any indication, it just continues to grow.
While he's a laid back personable young man, he's always been one of very few words. He's not very big on the interview scene and as for his post-fight interviews; he's legendary for his one sentence, or even one word, responses and leaving the cage. Yet, when he steps into the cage he's always business, which I think is what appeals to fans; a man of few words who lets his actions do the talking. Diaz is another one of these personalities.
His disappearance from not one, but two press conferences leading up to this card, tells you he's not much into talking. However, fans know there is never any concern as to whether or not he'll deliver, win or lose, inside the cage. I truly believe it is what makes guys like Diaz and Penn so popular. Fans of this sport have a high regard for anyone that is willing to put it on the line every single time regardless of wins and losses; perfect example, Randy Couture.
Hall of Famer Couture (19-11, 7 KO's 4 subs), is arguably the sports most popular fighter ever; yet, one look at his record instantly tells you it has nothing to do with his many storied victories. It has everything to do with the man, inside and outside the cage. Always respectful and humble, he's also been a warrior in every sense of the word. A multi-time champion in the light-heavyweight (205 lbs.) and heavyweight classes, the ageless wonder feared no one inside the cage; even if they were giants in front of him like Tim Sylvia or Brock Lesnar.
Fans revere these fighters, as they do a chosen few others such as Chuck Liddell, Wanderlei Silva and Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson. Check their records and you'll see it has nothing to do with how many wins or losses each have. It has everything to do with their fighting spirit and willingness to put it on the line, regardless of who they're fighting. This may very well explain why certain others are just not liked, regardless of their achievements.
Rashad Evans and Tito Ortiz are two former UFC light-heavyweight champions; Ortiz a multi-time champion. However, whenever they step into the cage or are shown on camera sitting in the audience, they are soundly booed. This is not to say they are without fans, because when they faced each other at UFC 133 in Philadelphia, I was cage side and can tell you first hand they both received their fair share of support. I guess in that scenario fans had no alternative and they had to root for somebody.
However, I've often wondered what it is about them that just don't appeal to the fans like the others mentioned above? Is it their lay and pray ground and pound wrestling style of fighting that just doesn't cut it? Or, is it their willingness to talk trash at every turn, while the aforementioned are men of few words? Josh Koscheck is another example of one of the most disliked fighters in the sport and he is a combination of both a wrestler at heart and one of the biggest trash talkers in MMA.
Ironically though, Chael Sonnen, who is probably the king of both the wrestling, ground and pound style and is without competition when it comes to talking smack, is generally popular among fans. I think in Chael's case, the reason he appeals to the masses is because he'll talk trash and back it up; and ultimately, that's what it comes down to. People are willing to look past any of these traits, as long as you give them their money's worth. Bottom line is people work hard for their money and they appreciate fighters who are willing to do the same; at least I think that's the case.