Wednesday, June 15, 2011

UFC 129's real winner? The Hamilton Tiger-Cats...

Last night's UFC 129 mixed martial arts event at Rogers Centre saw plenty of notable triumphs. The record-setting crowd saw everything from Georges St. Pierre's unanimous decision over Jake Shields (despite an eye injury) to Mark Hominick battling through a brutal forehead wound to last five full rounds against Jose Aldo in the Fight of the Night (highlights above) to Lyoto Machida's stunning Steven Seagal-inspired knockout of Randy Couture (in Couture's final fight) and John Makdessi's knockout of Kyle Watson. However, one of the most notable victors wasn't a fighter at all, but a CFL team backing a fighter; the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, whose sponsorship of Hominick turned out even better than anticipated.

Getting involved with the UFC was certainly an unconventional move from the Tiger-Cats, as most established sports teams and leagues seem to see MMA's rising popularity as a dangerous source of competition for fans and advertising dollars rather than a potential ally. Moreover, big MMA events were only recently legalized in Ontario, and there's still plenty of controversy around the sport. The Tiger-Cats made the bold decision to jump into the UFC waters, though, and they found the perfect guy to sponsor.

Hominick (pictured above after his fight; in addition to the head wound he battled through, note the Tiger-Cats' hat his cornerman is sporting), a fighter originally from Thamesford, Ontario who's now based out of the nearby London area, seemed like a logical candidate from the start thanks to his local connections, but his national and worldwide profile before the fight wasn't all that high. He got his shot at Aldo by taking on and knocking out George Roop in January, and it was widely speculated that UFC 129 could be Hominick's breakthrough moment. Well, it certainly was that, as Hominick made plenty of headlines all weekend. Some, like those involving the controversy that erupted around his weigh-in, weren't the best kind, but that became very minor news once he stepped into the octagon, as you can see from the highlights below:

Going up against highly-regarded featherweight champion Aldo, who Hominick had earlier called "the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world," many weren't optimistic about his chances. Hominick gave almost as good as he got, though; despite sustaining some brutal cuts, he landed a number of great jabs and elbows and battled right to the end. His performance was perfectly emblematic of the trench warfare strategy the Tiger-Cats have successfully channelled on the gridiron over the years, and pretty representative of Steeltown itself. Hominick hung out with Angelo Mosca at the sponsorship announcement April 20, and his showing Saturday night seemed exactly like something the legendarily nasty Ticat and former professional wrestler would have done. As the following video analysis with Sean McCormick and Yahoo!'s Kevin Iole and Dave Meltzer shows, Hominick impressed a lot of knowledgeable MMA types with his courageous showing Saturday:

This was about much more than just synergy in performance style, though. In addition to all the stories his sponsorship deal initially sparked on MMA sites around the globe, the Tiger-Cats' brand received plenty of in-arena exposure (funnily enough, in the home of their most hated rival, the Toronto Argonauts) Saturday night. Hominick donned one of the Tiger-Cats' New Era fitted caps for his entrance and prominently displayed their logo on his fight shorts. That's pretty significant for the Tiger-Cats, when you consider both the 55,724 fans in attendance at the Rogers Centre and the millions watching around the globe. Moreover, thanks to Hominick's incredible performance, his fight became one of the biggest stories of the night, which provides further traction for the Tiger-Cats. For example, photos of Hominick's fight all prominently show the Ticats' logo on his shorts, plus the new Hamilton caps worn by the guys in his corner. They definitely at least got their logo out in front of a huge audience, many of whom probably didn't know all that much about the CFL to start with.

Exposure alone isn't everything, as you have to consider if the exposure is actually going to motivate people to support your product. However, that's another front the Tiger-Cats would appear to win on. As mentioned above, much of the sporting establishment has thumbed its collective nose at the UFC over the years, so breaking with that trend and actively backing a MMA fighter is a pretty good way for the Tiger-Cats to improve their standing among MMA fans and increase awareness of the CFL game. These kinds of moves can really work, too; as Andrew McKay noted over at The Eh Game, a sponsorship deal with Couture has been tremendously positive for lacrosse's Edmonton Rush. Moreover, if Saturday is anything to go by, it would seem that both Hominick and the UFC in Ontario are likely on the rise. The Tiger-Cats got in close to the ground floor on both fronts, and they already have plans to do plenty more, including a MMA Night featuring Hominick when Hamilton hosts the Saskatchewan Roughriders July 16. This deal has already paid huge marketing benefits for the team, but it could help even more down the road, and UFC 129 will be remembered as where it all started.

Lori Heuring Nicole Scherzinger Jill Arrington Tami Donaldson Padma Lakshmi

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