Monday, December 8, 2014

What is a Wheaties box really worth?

This past week the sport of mixed martial arts took another major step in recognition and acceptance when UFC lightweight (155 lbs.) champion Anthony 'Showtime' Pettis was the latest athlete featured on the cover of a Wheaties box. Some may look at this and say, what is the big deal; it's just a box of cereal? However, it isn't just a box of cereal, it's Wheaties; so the question should be, what is a Wheaties box really worth?

Before getting into the significance of Pettis being showcased on Wheaties, we need to know the history of Wheaties boxes and its cultural importance. Since 1934 athletes have been on a box of Wheaties. At first it was just on the side or the back of the box, but then in 1958 athletes were put on the front of the box. That is 80 years of history and when you look at some of the names that have appeared, you get a better understanding.

Lou Gehrig, Jesse Owens, Muhammad Ali, Mary Lou Retton, Larry Bird etc. and the list of superstar athletes goes on, though only a select few have attained such status. As a matter of fact, when you consider Wheaties features athletes from sports across the board and not just one sport, the status of being selected becomes that much greater. Think about it, 80 years of athletes in all sports and only a chosen few have been bestowed such an honor.

Anthony Pettis being placed on Wheaties has major significance both on an athletic and cultural level. Athletically, he becomes the first ever-mixed martial arts fighter to grace the box. This is somewhat parallel to when former UFC lightweight contender Roger Huerta was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated in May 2007. Ironically, the cover was for a story on the "rise" of mixed martial arts; that was seven years ago.

At the time, the sport and its hardcore fan base thought they had finally arrived, so you can imagine what we feel like today. Sports Illustrated, major network television and now Wheaties; I guess it's safe to say MMA has been accepted into the American mainstream.

Culturally Pettis being on Wheaties is also important. Being of Puerto Rican and Mexican descent, Pettis becomes only the second Puerto Rican next to Robert Clemente to be featured; and reviewing the entire list of athletes who have been on Wheaties, he may actually be the first ever Mexican. I can tell you as a proud Puerto Rican American, this means a lot to the Hispanic community. In my "man cave" there are only two Wheaties boxes on display, Roberto Clemente's and now Anthony Pettis's.

Both Wheaties and the UFC must think lots about Anthony Pettis because they chose to unveil this box last Thursday, two days before his first title defense against Gilbert Melendez. To me that was a major risk as Melendez was viewed by many as a serious threat to challenge Pettis, who also was coming off a longer than usual layoff due to injury. Had he lost, that could have been quite an embarrassing and major blow for both the UFC and Wheaties.

Problem avoided as Pettis won and in dominant fashion with a second round submission over a guy in Melendez who had never been finished in a long and illustrious career. That win along with this honor will probably propel Pettis into mega-star status. He's young, he's good looking, he's well spoken etc. and as a thriving business man in his native Milwaukee, appears to have his life outside the cage in order. He's appeared on Fox TV multiple times as an analyst and is now featured on Wheaties. Only in America!

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