The UFC has long been the face of mixed martial arts competition even if it struggled to survive at one point. Today’s UFC is still making money hand over fist, but it’s not all fairies and pixie dust anymore pleasing fans worldwide. Let me explain just why the UFC is positioned precariously on a razor’s edge with success on one side and disaster on the other.
USADA is the obvious choice for a potential dagger in the heart. USADA has caught some big name veterans like Jon Jones, Brock Lesnar, Anderson Silva, Wanderlei Silva, and Chael Sonnen. Some of the banned substance failures were hilariously attributed to tainted sex pills and some were defended as tainted foot cream…come on man. The bottom line is that USADA kills big fights sometimes simply by rightfully making sure fighters aren’t cheating by using PED’s. Too many more of these busts and UFC doping could become boxing judges’ corruption in that the sport is marred with controversy at every turn. One bad moment unfortunately is remembered more than ten good ones. Hopefully the upcoming Joshua vs. Pulev boxing fight doesn’t fall victim to another poor judges’ decision.
The UFC needs big names. Some of the named fighters like Shogun are getting long in the tooth and they are only in their thirties. There aren’t alot of big names popping up and let’s be real here and say that most of the recognizable names now are in the lighter weight classes.
The once most popular division light heavyweight is in shambles and lacks a deep roster of viable contenders. OSP is the Justin Eilers now of 205 in that he is the “tough opponent” or “that one named guy” someone has beaten to warrant a shot at another guy. Paul Buentello got his shot at Andrei Arlovski by beating “tough opponent Justin Eilers” and that phrase was even used by Dana White for Andrei himself in the build up to the fight. The point is that the heavier weight classes are just not up to snuff, especially the heavyweight division and a good heavyweight will draw big numbers.
At heavyweight you have, or had in some cases the usual suspects of Frank Mir, Travis Browne, Andrei Arlovski, Bigfoot Silva, and Mark Hunt but their stars have faded. Cain Velasquez and Junior Dos Santos once represented competition levels high up in to the rare air of elite level fighters. JDS has fallen and Velasquez is nowhere to be seen. Former champ Fabricio Werdum beat Fedor Emelianenko and later in his career even captured the UFC title but his star didn’t rise as high as it could have. Frank Mir is gone, Brock Lesnar is gone, and Travis Browne is currently more famous for marrying Ronda Rousey than for his fading UFC career.
It takes a specific recipe of looks, skill, and the ability to deliver decisive finishes to be a star. Chuck Liddell and Ronda Rousey were good examples of the combo. They had the unique look, the right fighting style, and the chance to stand out. Conor McGregor is by far the best example of the three coming together for the perfect storm. God that was hard to say.
Furthermore, the Reebok deal has robbed almost all creativity and marketing opportunities for today’s batch of fighters. Most of us liked seeing the trademark Chuck Liddell blue and white “ice man” shorts or Rich Franklin’s brown and pink. They were unique and identified each fighter in the way they wanted to be seen. There were personalities and while you may argue that they still have them I would argue that they have what the UFC wants them to have. It’s like Demolition Man the movie where only Taco Bell remained after the restaurant wars. Now it’s all Reebok, all the time, every where you look. It’s depressing when you look back at the colorful, easily identifiable clothing of old. Sad, really. You don’t see fighters representing things that the UFC doesn’t want them to in any type of multimedia.
Mike Goldberg is gone. He was the hype man that you loved to hate. His “It is ALL over” will be treasured for years to come by fans of the Joe Rogan and Mike Goldberg era. It was the equivalent of Jim Ross’s departure from WWE and the gaping hole of excitement that came with hearing him call matches. Rogan is still the man but half of that excitement is gone.
The Fertittas have also departed from the company meaning that Dana White is pretty much all that is left of the old guard. Dana’s specialty is defending the UFC as the face of the company. Sure, his tirades have become more tame over time yet he’s still Dana, but the UFC is now owned by William Morris Endeavor Entertainment which is a completely different animal. They are a talent agency out of Beverly Hills that represents the NHL and NFL among its clients. They own Miss Universe too, meaning the guys who own the beat ’em up sport of choice company also own a beauty pageant.
The transition has arguably put more emphasis on “dream fights” like featherweight champion Conor McGregor vs. lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez and now Michael Bisping and a returning Georges St. Pierre. Fighter morale right now is low especially for those rightful contenders stuck in holding pattern hell waiting for those big fights to happen. Interim titles are all the rage…yay.
I’ve rambled a bit but I am making a point here. Bellator is making a run at the big money by acquiring still relevant released UFC talent. Roy Nelson, Rory MacDonald, Chael Sonnen, and the list goes on. Their fighters are still allowed to be unique and they are encouraged to be personalities. There isn’t as much red tape to get a title shot as there is right now in the UFC. They have a lot of things going for them that the UFC has taken away from its fighters and it would not shock me if they rivaled them more closely very soon.