Alright people, I’m no Joe Rogan, but here are my takes on the current state of the UFC:
Excluding 223 antics, they’re at a crossroads. I have a world of hypotheticals I’d love to get into but first, let me explain their situation from my point of view.
The UFC was bought by agency powerhouse WME/IMG in 2016 for $4 billion. That’s a DJ Khaled-inspired major key for any aspiring sports league. They have the agency behind them putting dollars into each fight week and trying to develop stars, legitimizing the promotion. Dana White (if you don’t know him, you might be reading the wrong article) inked a licensing deal with Reebok a few years back in hopes of legitimizing the brand as well. So all signs point to a legitimate fight promotion, and a legitimate sport.
You know what the core 4 sports have that the UFC doesn’t? A union. More on that later.
In its infancy, the UFC grew in part by eating up smaller promotions and matching established fighters with their own, infiltrating their fanbases, and morphing them into the fanbase of the UFC. Look no further than examples in the WEC or Pride.
The problem with going around the world Pacman style, is eventually you run out of little things to eat and end up facing a wall until a bunch of multi-colored ghosts hit you from the back.
They’re out of promotions to buy, and almost out of superstars to promote.
Think back to the names that brought them to prominence over the last few years: Ronday Rousey, Jon Jones, Conor McGregor.
Of the three, one is gone and one is on their last leg. Rousey is on the road to Wrestlemania, and Jonny Bones is fighting back against another failed drug test.
Full disclosure, I have a lil Jon Jones action figure waiting to be placed in my future man cave, he’s the best to ever do it – I’m bias. I hope he and USADA can figure something out so he can get back to knocking heads in.
Luckily for the UFC, “the big cheese” Conor McGregor appears eager to return to the Octagon and defend his belt(s) post boxing venture. So eager in fact he resorted to tossing trash cans at buses. I won’t get into those antics.
Back to the promotion issue – it’s hard to push the promotion now because there is no momentum behind these events that don’t carry names like Conor McGregor. The names carry no buzz since the mainstream fan base has been hit with over-saturation and “Fight Nights” on Friday and Saturday on FOX every weekend. There is no aura around the events because they happen too often now.
One reason for that is the UFC roster has gotten so big they need to create opportunities for all the fighters they sign. Another side-effect of the money WME/IMG brings.
There’s a revolving door of names at the bottom of the UFC roster that gets plugged into event after event and washed down the drain in ways that are oddly comparable to the Cleveland QB situation. Not a comparison you want made. It’s a harsh reality, but the UFC just has too many fighters right now because the demand isn’t there to just shove them all into the mainstream centerfold and expect it to be adopted by the masses. How to combat this? In my opinion, a union (for multiple reasons) – I’ll get to it, but there’s some more news I want to get into first.
Dana White started as a boxing guy. Big boxing guy. He’s always looking for new ways to grow the UFC name and ways to promote the brand, typically with star power. Insert Anthony Joshua.
Who is Anthony Joshua? He is the undefeated boxing Heavyweight champion (alongside Deonte Wilder), and one scary individual.
Two Heavyweight champions, you might be inquiring? Yes, boxing has four Heavyweight belts. There are four federations and each one has a champion, Joshua and Wilder are the rightful owners. Joshua: 3, Wilder: 1.
Joshua is from Britain, Wilder is from America. Great classic fight story brewing there. Think Rocky lll. Those two are on a collision course towards one another, and when they meet, smart money is on Anthony Joshua.
After that goes down, which should be must-see-TV, the UFC is likely to try and sign Anthony Joshua (or before). Dana has (allegedly) thrown around the $500 million number for a multi-fight contract.
Joshua even tweeted he would entertain the idea of fighting Jon Jones or Francis Ngannou. Obviously, something funky is in the tea across the pond. The crossover from boxing to MMA has failed numerous times. Anyone remember the James Toney experiment? But, admittedly, the Joshua tree is a different experience.
See, the UFC applied for a boxing promotion license in Nevada recently, meaning they could be entertaining the idea of a UFC Boxing vertical. This could be for Zuffa Boxing (Zuffa was the original parent company to the UFC) but if they stick to the brand, this could exist similar to how UFC counterpart – Bellator – has Bellator Kickboxing as well as their MMA promotion.
The UFC got a taste of boxing money through Mayweather-McGregor and may be trying to become the promotional muscle behind the next (and current) big thing with Anthony Joshua. Again, with the WME/IMG money, they can plaster his mug all over the nation.
Hypothetically, say they want to consistently promote boxing matches with fighters on their roster. I would have to assume the new Boxing vertical would fall under the UFC umbrella of televised rights going to FOX, licensing going to Reebok, and bring a shakeup to the monotony of unknown fighters brawling every weekend. Sometimes the mainstream fans can’t see the intricacies of each discipline that makes up certain movements, so maybe by starting with boxing, the minor details can be explained and shown in a way that is much easier to digest. Then grow to others. A half-baked idea, sure, but it could have legs.
The UFC’s ranking floats around the number 6 spot for sporting companies in the USA, coming in behind the MLS in my eyes. You know what those sports have that the UFC doesn’t? Right, I said it before, a union. Here’s where it gets tricky if the UFC were to begin promoting boxing events.
Boxing has a set of rules resulting from the “Muhammad Ali Act,” introduced in 1999 and put in place to protect the rights and welfare of boxers, aid state boxing commissions with the oversight of boxing, and a variety of other things to help the legitimacy of the boxing community. If the UFC puts both an MMA and Boxing promotion under the UFC brand, it would be hard pressed to justify the protections of one, without the protections of another. MMA fighters have brought the Ali Act to court in previous attempts to bring aid to the fight community, but time after time they’ve been shut down.
Now, starting a union has been attempted multiple times, and each try has failed. Fighters ballsy enough to join risk being blackballed from the promotion because the UFC can just pick up any random fighter from any random country and pay them any random salary because 1) the random fighter currently isn’t making dirt and 2) it’s the U. F. C.
The fighter union idea, like the one Leslie Smith is attempting to start, could save fighters from Renan Barao-type contracts,* and provide a place for the Ali Act to live in some sort of collectively bargained agreement between promotion and fight community.
*Renan Barao was signed straight out of Brazil for something close to a 10-fight 15/15 contract ($15,000 to fight, $15,000 to win) even though he quickly rose through the ranks to win the belt over Urijah Faber and even defended it. A champion, getting 15/15 to defend his belt. Maybe they renegotiated once he held the spot, but either way…yikes.
Disclaimer: Specifics are hard to find on many UFC contracts, so the dollar amounts may be slightly off-target.
Back to the Fighter Union: It’s bad short term for Dana White and co. because it may inflate contract prices, give up flexibility, and force them to lose a portion of control. But, if you’re looking to legitimize a sport and fully integrate it with the common people, this just might be your best option.
It could also protect events like 223 from rogue acts because there would be guidelines in place for how to control these situations and prevent them from happening. At the very least, taking out the guessing game and providing consistent punishments for equal infractions.
But hey, these are just opinions…