With Mackenzie Dern, the UFC has another shot at a crossover star

The biggest event of this week’s UFC event in Vegas is not on the PPV. It’s the feature bout on FS1 Prelims.

Two time BJJ world champion black belt Mackenzie Dern makes her UFC debut this Saturday in prime position. While she is not on the PPV, the last fight on the Prelim telecast is more prized than the first fight on a PPV. Usually, the feature is the most-viewed event on the cable telecast. Prior to the Reebok age, Miesha Tate advocated for the Prelims slot because it granted her more exposure for her sponsors. Post-Reebok, this does not seem to matter. However, this weekend, the UFC has tactically put Dern in this spot because they expect big things from the undefeated prospect.

Dern is everything that the UFC enjoyed with Ronda Rousey. She has martial arts credentials and is an attractive female. These two attributes make her an asset for the UFC. While many may be put off with the latter as key to being successful in the UFC, one need only look at Rousey, Paige VanZant and Michelle Waterson as fighters that have been promoted by the company to do mainstream, crossover promotions. Paige VanZant appeared on a season of ABC’s Dancing With the Stars. Although her fight career with the company has been so-so, her toughness and ability as an MMA fighter are undeniable. Waterson, dubbed “the Karate Hottie” appeared in the annual nude issue of ESPN. Despite going 0–3 in 2017, she is still utilized by the company for mainstream promotion.

Similarly, Sage Northcutt is a clean-cut, young and good-looking male fighter that has received criticism just for being himself. Many of the older, grizzled fighters and media bristle and the opportunities given to him. However, his last fight, which was sandwiched into a middle hour of the UFC Prelims was the most-watched during the telecast. This shows his worth to the company.

On the other hand, the UFC has had less success with promoting the likes of Amanda Nunes and Cris “Cyborg” Justino. Nunes soundly defeated Rousey in her ill-fated return to the Octagon at UFC 207. Yet, she has failed to achieve the crossover stardom as Rousey when she won the women’s bantamweight title. Nunes is lesbian and despite the UFC celebrating her, it has not received much traction from the mainstream domestic market. Justino, who served as a potential foil for Rousey several years back, has had a image renewal the past couple years. But, she does not possess the girl-next-door looks of Rousey or Dern. Of course, the other difference between Nunes, Justino versus the others more acceptable female fighters is that English is their second language. But, while that argument can be raised, it should be soundly dismissed because each has no need for an interpreter when doing interviews.

Yet, it is the public perception of the looks and the athleticism with which captures mainstream popularity. Rousey was the breakthrough model although Gina Carano came before her. It was Rousey that headlined UFC PPVs and could garner 1 million buys. This was unprecedented considering Dana White did not want to have women fight for the promotion. She preceded Conor McGregor’s ascension and was the anchor for the UFC as it broke through to more fans.

It’s hard to put that much hope in Dern who is still getting used to the Octagon. But, the company is thirsting for new stars to promote. With the uncertainty of the return of Conor McGregor, the ongoing troubles with Jon Jones and the new career of Ronda Rousey, there’s not much within the UFC that would make a casual viewer pay $65 to watch. Even with a short-term fix of the potential return of 41-year-old Brock Lesnar, the UFC is in dire need of finding someone they can groom into being their next PPV star. Dern could be the next in line.

(Photo via Sherdog Forums)

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