Can MMA’s elite be as popular as Manny Pacquiao?

5626517627 60f781ca56 bFor you Lowkickers out there familiar with my work, you know of my love of the sweet science. With the big fight between Manny Pacquiao and “Sugar” Shane Mosley just around the corner, a thought came to me. Whenever Pac-Man fights, it’s not just a fight, it’s like a national holiday all over the world. Not only do boxing enthusiasts look forward to this main event, but it seems like a big chunk of this planet will be watching.

Every sport has it’s face, a talent that becomes the unofficial representative of it’s athletic competition. A person so talented or charismatic, that they transcended the very sport that they represent. Names like Tiger Woods and Michael Jordan are some that come to mind in pop culture when you associate golf or basketball. In the world of professional boxing Muhammad Ali and Mike Tyson are some of the most recognizable names. But in this day and age no name is bigger than Manny Pacquiao.

Not only is he one of the greatest boxers of our time, he’s probably the most popular boxer of our generation. Aside from his in-ring accomplishments, he has become embedded into our daily lives, and into pop culture. You can play as him in the EA Sports Fight Night video games, you can wear his Nike clothes and sneakers, and you can eat his own brand of produce. He’s been featured in movies, TV, and most recently signed a deal with HP computers. He is literally almost everywhere.

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The sport of Mixed Martial Arts is still growing and no where near the age or even level of popularity that professional boxing is around the world. To date, arguably the most recognizable face in MMA could be Georges St. Pierre with his UFC Welterweight championship and endorsment deals with Gatorade and Under Armour. Randy Couture has been featured in many movies, has his own brand of exercise equipment, and is one of the sport’s most beloved stars. You can put Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz in that mix of fighters well-known in the mainstream.

Will MMA ever have a star one day as big or bigger than Manny Pacquiao? Here are some names that I believe could be our sport’s biggest star.

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4. Nick Diaz: Nick Diaz is one of the most loved and hated fighters to date. His balls to the wall style of fighting make him a very exciting talent to watch. He keeps demanding for more money and I think it’s there for him. The world has always been facinated with bad boys and rebels. I think he could be a big star if given the chance to compete at the highest level.

3. Alistair Overeem: The Reem is one of the toughest Heavyweights in the world of not only MMA, but kickboxing. His raw power, his personality, physique, and his accomplishments in combat sports makes him a marketing dream. A real life superhero like Alistair Overeem could be very popular amongst the mainstream.

2. Cain Velasquez: Cain Velasquez’s technique and skill in the Octagon is some of the best amongst all the heavyweights. He just seems to get better with every fight and he’ll be very tough for Brock Lesnar or Junior dos Santos to dethrone. It’s also important to mention that he is one of the most exciting fighters to watch and he finishes most of his fights. With a whole culture and country supporting him, he could be one of MMA’s biggest stars.

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1. Jon Jones: The new UFC Light Heavyweight champion of the world has all the tools to not only be an all-time great in the sport, but a media darling. If you combine his likable personality, his youth, and his unorthodox skills in the cage, he could be a huge draw for the sport.

Don’t agree with my choices? Drop your two cents in the comment box and tell me who you think could be MMA’s biggest star.

Photo: UFC fighter Jon Jones before his fight against Vladimir Matyushenko at UFC-Live: Jones vs. Matyushenko at the San Diego Sports Arena on August 1, 2010, in San Diego, California. Francis Specker