Monday, January 18, 2021

The UFC, A Well-Oiled Circus

As the largest Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) promotion company in the world, you’d expect the UFC to be a well-oiled machine. After all, they have the best fighters, the largest financial backers and the biggest fan base. However, if you peel back the layers, you’ll find a dysfunctional company with an outspoken (and often crude) president.

Does the UFC’s controversial and unorthodox approach to MMA hinder or help make it into the multi-billion dollar company it is today?

To give you some background, the UFC was acquired by the two Fertitta brothers (Frank and Lorenzo) and current UFC president Dana White back in 2001. At the time, the company was on the verge of extinction. The three of them injected a significant amount of money into the company while securing lucrative televisions deals, setting up multiple revenue streams and eventually creating a monopoly in the MMA landscape by buying and absorbing rival promotions.

The UFC is not the governing body of MMA, it’s a business; and as a business, the goal is to create a product that is both appealing and profitable. While the UFC are bound by a strict set of rules set by the International Mixed Martial Arts Federation, they run their own show while giving the fans what they want.

Throughout the life of the UFC, we’ve witnessed a number of these “business” decisions which have been made to appeal to the fans rather than following a traditional formula. If you’ve watched enough UFC events, you’ll know what I’m talking about. I’ve picked a few examples recently to emphasize my point.

Cast your mind back to last year before the announcement of the Ronda Rousey and Holly Holm fight. Miesha Tate was the clear number one contender to face Rousey. Instead, Dana White stated that if they gave Tate a shot and she lost, her career would be over. This forced Tate to consider retirement as she felt worthless in the UFC. In hindsight, it was a good decision although Dana White doesn’t have those kinds of powers. The fight between Rousey and Holm had to happen from a business perspective as the fans had already seen Rousey vs Tate (twice) before with Rousey winning both bouts convincingly. Rousey had also beaten all the other contenders in front of Holm. The idea to throw Holm in the deep end to face Rousey was a gamble, although she had a few selling points which excited the fans. Holm was (is) a former boxing world champion and at the time was undefeated in her MMA career. Stylistically, she was a good match up for Rousey, although, in many people’s eyes, she hadn’t done enough in the UFC to warrant a shot at the title.

Recently, Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson came out and questioned the UFC’s decision to give Henry Cejudo a title fight against him. Cejudo has only fought four times in the UFC. The reason he’s been given the fight is because no other opponent in the division has even come close to dethroning “Mighty Mouse”. Cejudo – on paper – is potentially the most dangerous opponent to face him. Cejudo is a gold medalist in Olympic wrestling and he’s undefeated in MMA. From a business perspective, he’s the most attractive opponent and will no doubt help sell more pay-per-views than anyone else.

Another one of these unusual “business” decisions was the acquisition of Phil Brooks.

For anyone who isn’t aware, Phil Brooks (or “CM Punk”) is best known for his time in the World Wrestling Entertainment or WWE. Brooks is a wrestler by trade although he’s NEVER had a professional MMA fight in his life.

Brooks has been undergoing a rigorous training regime under the tutelage of Duke Roufus (the coach of former UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis) to condition himself to fight inside the octagon. It’s no secret why the UFC signed him. Brooks is a superstar (over 2.5 million Twitter followers!) with a lot of pulling power. When he steps inside that octagon, he will attract interest from everywhere, especially fans of the WWE. Brooks will need to be prepared because the octagon is an unforgiving place to be, especially for a rookie. Win or lose, it’s a smart business decision by the UFC.

You might think the UFC has done this before in the form of Brock Lesnar. While Lesnar entered the octagon as a relative novice, he had a few fights in lower MMA promotions and actually had a professional record before signing with the company. Lesnar also had the advantage of being a physical specimen. His sheer size and athletic ability were enough to get him so far.

While Brooks’ inclusion into the UFC is strange, it’s no less unusual then former world champion boxer James Toney signing a one-off fight to face UFC Hall of Famer Randy Couture in the octagon. Toney had been criticizing the UFC and Dana White offered him a fight. It ended in predictable fashion with Couture taking him down with ease and submitting him.

At times, the UFC does represent a circus more than a professional MMA promotion. You might question the comments and decisions of the president. You may (like me) seem surprised when certain fights materialize. What you can’t deny though is the exposure the UFC has given to MMA. The UFC is exciting and fun to watch. The chaos and general shenanigans we’ve seen over the years just add to the charm. While the company goes against the norm and make their own rules up, they do a good job of giving the fans what they want.