There are several fighters who are always exciting. There are several more fighters who are pay per view draws, but there are very few fighters who win over news fans. In other words, there are not many MMA fighters who have the ability to attract new fans based on their fighting style.
Chuck Liddell was one that could. I remember watching Chuck Liddell fight and as a result became a fan of the sport of mixed martial arts. Perhaps no other fighter drew in more fans than the legendary Royce Gracie. In fact, it seems that over and over again when people talk about when they became fans people mention Royce Gracie and the early UFCs.
Perhaps some of the old PRIDE fighters could create new fans. I would wager that Wanderlei Silva and Mirko Cro Cop had that type of impact. I am quite certain that Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Kazushi Sakuraba, and Dan Henderson had some impact in creating new fans.
Next to Royce Gracie, I cannot think of someone that brought in more new fans than Brock Lesnar. Yes, he was polarizing, but he drew interest from people that were not fans before they watched him fight.
So, what fighters today have the ability to create new fans. I propose that there are not many. Anderson Silva, Georges St. Pierre and Jon Jones may be it. I think the lighter eight classes have the ability to have that impact due to their excitement, speed and technique, but they have yet to catch on with casual fans.
So, what does this means for MMA? It is not a good thing. However, there have never been dozens of fighters with the fan creating ability. There have always just been a handful. This will not change. There are only a handful of fighters who have the style and personality to cause people to watch their fights and become fans of the sport.
The UFC needs to use those fighters to carry them to the next level. Yes, there are tons of other guys who are exciting. Yes, there are tons of other guys who should be more popular than they are. The bottom line is some people have “it” and some don’t. The fighters that do have “it” will be the ones to lead the growth of MMA.