I started this series with a fairly clear idea of what needs to be fixed, you can see the first part here and the second one here. I also made a couple of suggestions. Well, these were the “easier” fixes.
Today I want to open up a discussion about the two biggies. I’m not sure myself how to “fix” these, but I do intend to throw a solution or two. Perhaps it can open things up for an interesting discussion. Since these two items are big in and of themselves, and since they are inter-connected, I will start touching them on this post, and likely continue with a follow-up. Many many words…
One of the things I found so exciting about MMA (and specifically UFC, since it was and still is the most viewed) were the post-fight interviews. Some really fun things happened there.
Hatchets were buried, more sparks flew, challenges thrown and in some cases just some humorous fun.
One of the most recurring questions was “Who would you like to fight next?”
With the exception of fighters who were obvious title contenders – hence asked for a title shot – the most common answer was “Well, you know. Anyone. I want to fight the best and whatever Joe Silva books I’m down with that.”
Yeah! Let’s get it on!
The most popular fighters, the fan favorites, were these guys who wanted to challenge themselves and achieve more than they already have.
Sadly, this has changed.
In fact, it is one of the biggest changes this sport went through in recent years, and it has a direct link to three main developments:
The Reebok deal
Conor McGregor and Ronda Rousey
The purchase of UFC by WME-IMG
Now, I’m saying change. How is that change noticeable? What makes me say that it is a change at all?
The change is noticeable via these post-fight interviews, by post fight press events and as is the case these days – in social media.
Often, a fighter will win a fight or two and immediately start asking for “the money fight”. Doesn’t matter whether it’s a title shot. Doesn’t even matter at what weight class. Heck, let’s do it at catch-weight. That fighter wants to face an opponent with “name value” so the income will be higher as well as the exposure.
Before I answer the obvious question “what’s so bad about it?” I’d like to tie it to the aforementioned points.
The Reebok deal changed the structure of fighter’s compensation. We can spend a whole post analyzing it (and probably never agree on everything), but one thing – I believe – is undisputed. It favors the “stars” in a huge way. It also removed the possibility of getting other sponsorship off of the fighters who are either just breaking through, or are simply less “charismatic”. I see a pretty clear connection between the financial outlook of a fighter these days – based on this compensation structure, and the change in attitude.
Ronda Rousey and Conor McGregor are huge stars. They contributed to the exposure of MMA in a way that no one was ever able to do before them. Both of them received fairly generous compensation, which they deserve. If you ask me, Conor does deserve a “cut” of the shares… I have no judgment on that. However, the other fighters (who have to deal with the “normal” compensation due to the Reebok deal) feel that they should also be compensated better. That gap is there. It also contributes to this change we’re talking about. We’ll get back to Conor later, but let’s move on to…
The purchase of UFC by WME-IMG. There are two main aspects to this sale. One is the obvious sense that money is coming in, and there’s a lot of it to be had. That is an understandable driver for fighters wanting to earn more. Another one, this time from the owner’s perspective, is the understandable goal to get returns on the investment. Hence, fighters want these “Money fights”, and more “Money fights” are made.
Now, let’s answer that question – What’s so bad about it?
First of all, a caveat. It’s not ALL bad. Hey, how much fun was Conor Vs. Nate? It was pretty cool. Conor winning two belts? Very exciting.
I do, however, see a bit more negative than positive because of this.
The UFC instilled the ranking system with a purpose to try to make fight booking as fair as possible. It’s not the holly word of God of course, and it shouldn’t always be the only factor in booking matches. However, it is there for a reason. If all we have are “money fights” then what are we ranking these fighters for? Another question is – is this still a sport? If the answer is yes, we need to attribute significance to these rankings. If not, then ok. But let’s call this “entertainment”.
Fighters have always wanted to win the belts. It wasn’t as important to every single person there, but in essence, the winning column brought one closer to a title with every new W. These days we see fighters who boast a very impressive record, following pretty convincing performances, who are made to wait aside while the UFC books a “money fight”. It isn’t fair on these guys.
The title defense records of fighters like Anderson Silva, GSP, Jon Jones and Demetrious Johnson are things of wonder. They put these guys at a level of greatness that can be quantified, and defended. These days, we have a champion in Conor McGregor who held two belts, which in itself is problematic in terms of scheduling, and hasn’t defended them once. The LW title fight was a “Money fight” in itself, and even now, having getting the FW belt taken away, it doesn’t seem like a burning issue for him to defend the one he does have.
Tyron Woodley, who’s far from being the money-making machine Conor is, won the belt and defended it once (a case could be made that he should’ve lost). The first thing he says after winning the belt? Give me a “Money fight”. Looking at one semi-retired fighter in GSP, eyeing a fighter who hasn’t fought in years in Nick Diaz… All while people like Demian Maia are craving a title shot they deserve.
To clarify, I am not blaming Woodley, Conor, or anyone for wanting to earn more money. So should they, having to risk a lot in order to gain what could possibly be a lot more.
I’m not blaming the new owners, who threw more than 4 Billion on this adventure and want to get a good ROI.
There really is no one to blame. Well, perhaps just Zuffa for signing that awful Reebok deal.
I hope none of my fears come true. I hope this sport doesn’t become a joke. I hope fighters won’t quit MMA because there’s no financial benefit to speak of. I hope titles and title defenses will mean something again.
How can UFC help prevent the above from happening? Well, I try to keep my posts shorter and more to the point, and this one is already north of 1000 words. Hell, it needed the time and some elaboration.
I will make a couple of suggestions in the next part of “Fixing MMA”.
In the meantime, feel free to comment and share.
Do you agree with this assessment?
Do you even see it as a problem?
Are there more reasons for this change in attitudes?