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Fan Perspective: UFC, The Ultimate Popularity Contest?

Photo Courtesy The Daily Telegraph

The UFC is to MMA, what the NFL is to football, correct? Well I’ve been in the Mixed Martial Arts scene for over a decade, and I’m beginning to notice a trend in the biggest promotion our beloved sport knows (UFC). The contender model currently used by the UFC is more like that of the WWE than its supposed NFL counterpart. Most fans would agree that a sport should have a ranking system that is based purely on athletic performance within the context of the rules of the competition. While UFC does have it’s own ranking system that ultimately gives fighters a number equal to their contender position in the promotion, what they’ve done with these statistics is nothing more than positioning a marketable performer to help earn more ticket sales and PPV dollars.

Any fighter that can increase or sustain PPV sales seems to be able to jump to the front of the line for a title shot. I love Chael Sonnen as much as the next guy, but I don’t think it’s fair for him to lose his shot at middleweight, and immediately get a shot at light heavyweight gold! Is it good for the promotion?  Yeah sure, in the short term. It did, after all, make the UFC plenty of money. But is this practice good for the sport?  Does it help the credibility of the UFC as a viable contender to the household names that have made NFL, NBA and MLB staples of American culture?  I honestly don’t believe it does.  Not in the long run.

Let’s take a look at the Diaz vs GSP bout that took place back at UFC 158.  The UFC really wanted this fight to happen, regardless of the antics with Diaz missing press conferences or the controversy surrounding the Canadian Athletic commission’s “rules” for weigh-in limits on title fights.  They were willing to push forward at any cost, but before they could get the PPV numbers they desired they had to make Diaz fight Carlos Condit, in a fight where Captain Stockton was heavily favored. Once Diaz won that fight, the UFC could move forward with the big seller, GSP vs Nick. Well Condit threw a wrench into that plan, managing to pull the upset employing his best Forrest Gump (“Run Forest, Run!”) impersonation in the ring. Yet again, like Chael and other similar favorites before him, the UFC was determined to make GSP vs. Diaz happen and Diaz got his shot anyway.

For some reason I get the overwhelming feeling that as long as a fighter is marketable they get special treatment, regardless of how talented or effective they are in the Octagon. Take a look at Jon Fitch and Yushin Okami.  Both were TOP TEN fighters on the UFC’s very own ranking system, and yet it seemed like the the promotion cut these fighters the first chance it got. When talking about the reasoning behind cutting these fighters, Dana White listed their unexciting fighting styles and weak crowd drawing power as major factors in the decision.

An understandable business decision, but this is supposed to be a sport.  If you want to have a fair playing field you can’t just say, “No, the Chargers aren’t going up against the Giants this season cause, well, the Chargers just don’t draw in the numbers we need.”  Nope, that football game would take place regardless the ratings so long as the teams had earned their way to those spots according to the rules of the game.

So where does this happen and how is it justified? The WWE is pretty well known for taking that approach.  They cut their “performers” due to lack of star power on a regular basis.  So what is it we’re watching now? A fight? Or a popularity contest?  Is it even fair to expect a fighter to not only win but “win with flair”?  Lot’s of fans might say yes, especially when they think about the tedium of lay-and-pray tactics used by some very well known mixed martial artists.  Maybe we should all just sit down and enjoy our entertainment, right?

Regardless whether things remain as they are or there’s a serious change of heart in the industry as a whole, in summary, I think the UFC should take a step back, look at their athletes, and let them really hash it out in the ring.  Let the cream rise to the top based on their athletic prowess, not their ability to speak on camera.  We’re talking about fighters here, not international dignitaries!