In January 2015, I conducted a small survey to figure out who the biggest names in American sports were. At the time, it was done to show the impact that Derek Jeter had on baseball in his last season and how the Yankees, sports media, and brands had done a great job of celebrating him. On top of that, it was to show how baseball might have an issue filling the void in having a superstar.
This year, I wanted to do the same thing with no specific mission in mind. Who are the biggest names in major American sports? Who are the athletes that brands can use as endorsers for products? Who are the stars that the public and the media gravitate to?
This focuses on mixed martial arts and the UFC.
THE BIGGEST NAMES IN THE UFC
Number 3 (tied): CM Punk
- Achievements: 3x WWE Heavyweight Champion
- Endorsements: NA
CM Punk is attempting to do what Brock Lesnar did and transition from the WWE to the UFC. A big name in the WWE, Punk has had a rough start in 2016 thanks to injuries. Only time will tell if he will have the same kind of success that Lesnar did.
Number 3 (tied): Chuck Liddell
- Retired Light Heavyweight
- Achievements: 21-8 record, 1x UFC Light Heavyweight champion, 4 title defenses, most wins in UFC Light Heavyweight history
WHen the UFC really started to become popular, Chuck Liddell was at the forefront of the rise. His exciting knockout finishes and dominance of, at the time, the biggest division in the UFC made his fights a must-see. His popularity and name are still remembered even after his retirement.
Number 3 (tied): Georges St-Pierre
- Achievements: 25-2 record, 2x UFC Welterweight champion, 9 title defenses, most wins in UFC History
- Endorsements: Under Armour, NOS, Hayabusa
Considered by many to be the greatest welterweight of all time, GSP was dominant from the moment he won the welterweight title until the “end” of his career. While he has not officially retired as of yet, the welterweight division has yet to find someone as dominant as GSP was. Despite being what some may be considered a “boring” fighter, his fights after UFC 100 were the main event of every pay-per-view they were on so he is a name hard to forget.
Number 3 (tied): Anderson Silva
- Achievements: 33-7 record, 1x UFC Middleweight champion, 10 title defenses, most finishes in UFC history
- Endorsements: 9INE, Sport Club Corinthians Paulista, Burger King
Anderson Silva, when he retires, will go down as the greatest fighter in UFC history. 10 consecutive title defenses, 16 straight wins in the UFC, and wins in two weight classes, Silva was untouchable for years until facing Chris Weidman in 2013. Like GSP, all of his fights headlined pay-per-views and as a result, some casual fans could put name to sport.
Number 2: Conor McGregor
- Achievements: 19-3 record, reigning UFC Featherweight champion, most KOs in UFC Featherweight history
- Endorsements: Reebok, Monster Energy, BSN
As one of the fighters on the cover of UFC 2, McGregor is one of the biggest draws in the UFC today. Unapologetic, explosive, and not one to turn down a fight, he is polarizing as he is popular. Despite taking a loss in his latest fight against Nate Diaz, McGregor is still champion of the featherweight division and fans will want to see how he comes back.
Number 1: Ronda Rousey
- Achievements: 12-1 record, 1x UFC Women’s Bantamweight champion, 6 title defenses, 2008 bronze medalist in judo
- Endorsements: Monster Energy, Metro PCS, Carl’s Jr.
The overwhelming face of the UFC according to this survey, Rousey has massive name recognition both inside and outside of the octagon. Ronda had two of the three biggest pay-per-views in 2015 and her dominance until her loss to Holly Holm marveled so many. Take that and add it on to the movie appearances as well as partaking in things such as the SI Swimsuit Issue and it’s easy to tell why she would be the face of the UFC.
The fighters that are dominant as well as exciting are the faces of the sport.
Despite one fighter separating herself from the rest, the others are not as well known. The UFC still has some work to do to capture the casual fans and make them more aware of their other fighters.