They beat, kick and choke - and diligently post on platforms like Facebook and Instagram. For the market value of mixed martial arts fighters have long influenced not only their fights in the arena, but also the performance on the Internet, in social networks. That is why martial arts athletes are represented at the Tech Conference Web Summit in Lisbon between many digital experts.
"Social media had a big impact on my career," said professional fighter Paige VanZant the SPIEGEL. "Online you build your fan base - the Internet is very important to position yourself as a brand." On Instagram, the 25-year-old American presents herself in photos and video clips during training, but also while traveling, privately with her boyfriend and dog - and more than 2.3 million subscribers are watching. There are also around 700,000 people following their Facebook fan page and 329,000 Twitter followers.
"The fans do not just want to see the process, not just the successful moments - they want to look behind the scenes," said VanZant. "They are more interested in the more detailed contributions, for example, when it comes to a fight, and participate heavily."
Better ranking through social media
The world's largest MMA organizer UFC has invested heavily in marketing and social media formats such as video blogs and series in recent years. Meanwhile, the UFC and its fighters are producing as much content to digital expert Maya Hampton as their own media organization. The popularity of long considered brutal martial arts, in which various fighting techniques are used and in the past there were few rules, was also "exploded" thanks to the marketing. Hampton writes in an analysis. Even the stars themselves would market themselves: "They all have characteristic movements, nicknames and styles to distinguish themselves and attract sponsors," says Hampton.
The former UFC fighter and featherweight champion Cristiane "Cris Cyborg" Justino, according to the social media strategy today significantly influenced the presence in the ring: "Social media has a great influence in the marketing of fights and brand building," said the Brazilian MIRROR. "Often you can see that fighters who are ranked lower in the rankings are rewarded with better profile fights - just because of their social media follower numbers."
Justino is also an MMA influencer, spending most of her time on her YouTube channel, but also Instagram (more than 1.1 million fans), Facebook (900,000 fans), Twitter (220,000 followers) and TikTok are important channels for her.
Justino has his own social media team to help them create content for each platform. "It's a lot of work, but I keep an eye on everything and I like it because I'm in contact with my fans," says the 34-year-old. "And I can earn money with it because many of my sponsors see value in sponsored posts." Recently, the fighter moved to MMA firm Bellator, and has completed "the largest contract in the history of the women's MMA" according to CEO Scott Coker.
Demands for more salary
The American Paige VanZant plays her social media channels alone - a feat that also pays off on deals with sponsors and other companies. In negotiations, she presents user data analytics from Facebook and Instagram to prove her reach.
Social media is also the platform for VanZant's current biggest fight - against the so-called gender paygap, the unequal pay of men and women, in the martial arts scene. VanZant has been under contract with the UFC in recent years and is currently renegotiating. But she only wants to extend it to much better conditions. Although she is one of the most popular fighters of the UFC, male newcomers earned more, she criticizes - and denounces the pay gap again and again publicly.
"Unfortunately, I earn more money on social media than in fights, although fights are my real career," says VanZant the SPIEGEL. "That's why I talk so openly about women's salaries - it's something I want to change."