Octagon icon Georges St-Pierre believes the sport of Muay Thai could benefit from incorporating some of the drama that has made MMA one of the fastest-growing professional sports in America.
Muay Thai has seen an undeniable spike in popularity due in large part to the rise of superstars like Rodtang and Superlek, two of ONE Championship’s biggest draws in the art of eight limbs. But for fight fans, particularly in the United States, the biggest obstacle to embracing combat sports outside of MMA and boxing is the lack of drama.
Professional fighters and MMA as a whole have seen a massive explosion in popularity over the last decade and it all seemingly started with Chael Sonnen, a solid ground-based fighter who often talked his way into title fights with a WWE-style persona that had fans either dying to see him win or chomping at the bit to watch him take a beating. Either way, people were offering up their hard-earned money to see it.
Speaking with BangTao MMA — the most premiere Muay Thai and MMA training center in Phuket, Thailand during a Q&A session, former two-division UFC titleholder Georges St-Pierre suggested that Muay Thai could benefit by implementing some of the melodrama that has captivated North American crowds in recent years.
“I think what makes a fight more attractive, is not only a question of skills,” St-Pierre said. Whether it’s in Muay Thai, judo, or jiu-jitsu it’s a question of emotion, and fights are promoted on emotion. A lot of people will disagree with me because they are purists. The reason they watch a fight is to find out who is the best fighter. But most people don’t watch a fight for the same reason as us. They watch a fight because this guy said this to him and they want to see what happens.
“I’ve seen it throughout my career, it’s true. That’s why you see a lot of fighters nowadays promote themselves as a caricature, if they are mad they act like they are more mad. If they are happy they act like they are more happy. If they want to be arrogant, they want to be more arrogant.“
Georges St-Pierre Says Muay Thai Fighters Need to take a page out of Conor McGregor’s Playbook
There is perhaps no greater example of a fighter using emotion to sell a fight than Conor McGregor. The Irishman has featured in eight of the promotion’s top 10 highest-grossing pay-per-views of all time. None bigger than his lightweight title clash with UFC Hall of Famer and undefeated champion Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Looking back, their showdown at UFC 229 in October 2018 largely failed to live up to the hype with McGregor succumbing to a fourth-round submission. But when talking about the historic rivalry, all anyone seems to remember is the intense build-up or the chaotic aftermath that saw both fighters ultimately suspended by the Nevada State Athletic Commission.
St-Pierre believes Muay Thai could benefit from a few McGregor-esque personalities in the sport, but was quick to caution that authenticity is crucial. If a fighter is simply playing a character — i.e. Colby Covington — rather than accentuating who they already are, fans will see right through it.
“I think it’s the Conor McGregor effect. Conor did a lot of great things for the sport. He brought the attention to a level that was never done before. However, I believe if you want to be attractive to an audience you need to stay authentic to who you are, because if you are not it shows. Conor was great at what he did because he was authentic, but there are a lot of people who are not authentic and it doesn’t look good.
“For me, I love to watch Muay Thai but for a big audience, maybe it misses a bit of charisma in terms of emotional context. That’s one of the things I think they should focus on. More on the relation between the two opponents and why they are going to fight and who said what. I know it sounds crazy but that’s how I think you promote a fight.“