Are MMA fans ready to accept “The Nice Guy”?

By Matt Larkin

Guest Writer

For mixed martial arts and, more specifically, the UFC, 2011 has been very much about ushering in the mainstream. Adding two new weight classes, enveloping the WEC, buying Strikeforce and signing a huge network TV deal with FOX were all major steps toward making MMA a more widely recognized and accepted sport.

With the increased mainstream popularity, in theory, comes more concern over fighters’ images. In other major pro sports, the bad boy isn’t often the superstar, it’s usually the squeaky-clean guy. Cal Ripken, Peyton Manning pre-scandal Tiger Woods, and Sidney Crosby are the types of personalities that rule sponsorship deals and billboards.

We could only expect, then, that the UFC would work to market its own “nice guys.” In Georges St-Pierre and Jon Jones, it has its two flagships. However, I wonder if MMA is an exception to this rule. Are we sure the nice guy is built to be a star in the UFC?

Take The Jimmy Kimmel Show, for example. This week, UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones and his No. 1 challenger, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, appeared as guests alongside Dr. Phil. Can you guess which fighter drew the audience’s warmth and which one was jeered?

The likeable, good-looking, talented Jones didn’t get the response as he expected. He smiled through his teeth, trying to “take the high road” and answer everything diplomatically. Meanwhile, the street-tough Rampage wasted no time tearing into Jones, insulting him every chance he got and “being real.”

The crowd laughed at everything Rampage said, so much that Jones told the audience “Come on, don’t clap for that.”

Looking at that reaction – not to mention the negative fan backlash against the “safe” St-Pierre over the last year, I wonder if the Nice Guy has a place as an MMA star.

Who are the biggest draws, the most talked about fighters? Chuck Liddell, Former pro wrestling star Brock Lesnar, Nick Diaz. Cocky, taunting Anderson Silva. Mouthy Chael Sonnen.

Maybe we simply must accept that the core of this sport is still combat and a form of violence. It’s possible that nice guys finish last in MMA. There’s something very raw and elemental about fighting and perhaps a polished, eloquent fighter just doesn’t feel right to fans.

The one major contradiction to this theory – and the man who should give us hope about Jon Jones – is Randy Couture. For now, though, Randy is the exception, not the norm.

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